Children in Hungary start school at the age of six and everybody must go to school until the age of sixteen. The first type of school is primary school, where children may stay until they are fourteen, that is for eight years. But a lot of children choose to leave primary school earlier and go on to secondary school at the age of ten or twelve.
Most secondary schools work with a four-year schedule, so their students are between fourteen and eighteen years of age. But quite a lot of secondary grammar schools tend to give more complex education and take children at the age of twelve for a six-year schedule or at the age of ten for a complete eight years’ time.
The basic aim of grammar schools is to prepare students for higher education, while secondary technical schools give more practical education and their finals include qualification in a given trade. Secondary vocational schools train skilled workers with a schedule of two or three years.
The final exams at grammar school (at the age of eighteen) include Hungarian language and literature, history, mathematics, a foreign language and one or two chosen subjects. Students usually choose subjects depending on what kind of university or college they would like to go on to. Those with lower results have little chance to go on to forms of higher education – but they still have a possibility to become skilled workers by two years’ training after finishing grammar school. For all the more, there are certain trades which require secondary school finals and can be started only after secondary school.
Admission to university or college requires secondary school finals and a successful entrance exam. The score is calculated by the results of the last two years of secondary school in the chosen subject and the score of the entrance exam. You need a high score to get into a good university or college (e.g. the arts, science or law faculty, the technical or medical university). University training takes five years (the medical university six), while you spend three or four years at college. There are different exams in different subjects at the end of each term, and overall exams in your major subjects at the end of the second and fourth years. In the fifth year students have to write a graduation paper and do practice in their professions. At the end you pass the so-called state exam and get your degree. No students are allowed to take the state exam without a state certificate in at least one foreign language at intermediate level.
There are two terms in Hungarian schools. The school year starts at the beginning of September and ends in June. There is a two weeks’ break around Christmas and New Year and about one week at Easter. In primary and secondary schools there isn’t a break between the two terms (the second term starts in February), but universities and colleges have a six weeks’ examination period in December and January, of which students can have some holidays if they pass their exams fast enough.
The school day in primary and secondary schools starts at about eight o’clock and there are usually five or six (sometimes seven in upper classes) forty-five minute lessons a day with ten or fifteen minutes’ breaks between them. Students get marks for their oral and written performance, which may vary between one (which is a fail) and five (which means excellent). Subjects include basic things like history, literature, languages, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, geography, drawing, singing and physical education. In the upper classes students may choose extra lessons in their subjects or other subjects which they would not study otherwise. There are no exams in primary and secondary schools, except for the secondary school finals.
State education is free in Hungary, but of course you pay for books and school trips and other organized programmes. However, there are quite many private schools, which take a rather high fee. These schools often work with alternative methods like Waldorf or Montessori, with more or less success. In higher education there are a few companies which run paying courses in all kinds of subjects with degrees of more or less value.
by Vadász György