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.