Tuesday 14 September 2010

The Revolt of the Elite Schools

The Hungarian education system reinforces social inequalities

I do not like elite schools. I have never attended any, and now that my daughter is starting school, I have sticked to the principle of not sending her to one. (As a divorced father I had to contend with other principles though.)

"Braceface" series. Episode: "The Beat Goes On".
© 2001-2002 Nelvana Limited
/Jade Animation (Shenzen) Company
The obvious problem with elite schools is that they can only exist if there are also not-so-good, second-tier, third-tier schools. That there are no-name brands and second rate companies on the market is a matter of course in a capitalist economy. That there are top, second-tier and third-tier universities is also a widely accepted fact in higher education. But that there should be better and worse secondary schools, or even – which is a very sad aspect of Hungarian reality – better and worse primary schools, is by far not self-evident. I am in fact shocked when I hear my friends treat this phenomenon as if it was natural: Many of them have been climbing the ladder of elite education, their families and later themselves consciously choosing always the “best” available school for further studies. They will almost naturally do the same as parents, because “they want the best for their children”. The scarcity of good jobs and the value of up-to-date knowledge on today's labour market make this endeavour reasonable up to a certain point. What I cannot but wonder, however, is the apparent lack of understanding the harmful consequences this attitude has on Hungary's social cohesion.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Hungarian Vigour in the Common Law

I have always been convinced that my fellow-countrymen can make it to the top in whatever field they want. But I must admit that the common law tradition was among the last areas to be conquered by Hungarians I would have thought of.

corpus iuris civilis Hungarian lawyers have a strong aversion to the case law approach. Law students usually have serious difficulties with learning the subjects in which it plays some role, namely international and European law. These difficulties are caused by the fact that mastering a complete system of rules, which is the ultimate goal of Hungarian legal education, is not enough here. Law faculties in Hungary concentrate on pouring the full content of as many statutes and regulations into the students’ head as they can. These statutes and regulations are usually based on an elaborate conceptual structure, which makes them easy to visualize: It is like a refined architecture built out of basic notions, distinctions, general rules and exceptions. University text books see their task in drawing the distinctions even more precisely, making the system look even clearer and repairing its possible ruptures. Of course written laws and text books intend to have something in common with the reality they pertain to, but even if they succeed, law students are not aware of how reality is reflected by this legal dogmatics. As a result, they finish university with a neat picture in their head of Hungary’s legal system but without basic skills of applying this knoknowledge to real cases.