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[Hungary] A Successful Kindergarten Model in Hungary


In Hungary early childhood education and care (ECEC) is split system-wise into childcare (from childbirth to 3 years of age) and early childhood education (from 3 to 6/7 years of age). While the emphasis of the programs available for all young children and their families has converged substantially over the years in Hungary, the division into these age groups is longstanding. The present study gives a short overview of early education and care of children 3-7 years which is the first stage of public education (kindergarten). In addition to the analysis of policy and services, several facets of the system like structure, funding, budget, administrative and legal regulations, staffing, program content and implementation are discussed. Hungarian kindergarten-education has a very good reputation world-wide and is the subject of study by many professionals from foreign countries.

Key words:
ECEC, kindergarten, minority education, segregation, inclusive education, childcare, education, Hungary, Judit Hidasi
Japanese Chinese

>> Basic Data of Hungary Hungary


1. Education population and language of instruction

Hungary is located in the heart of Central-Eastern Europe. This landlocked country is bordered on the North by Slovakia, on the east by the Ukraine and Romania, on the south by Serbia and Croatia and on the west by Slovenia and Austria. The population of the Republic of Hungary in 2010 slightly exceeds ten million. The nationality of the population is primarily Hungarian with approximately less than 10% of Roma, German, Slovak, Romanian, Serb, Croat, Bulgarian, Greek, Ruthenian, Slovenian, etc minorities. However there are varying estimates of the Roma population in Hungary giving figures of 450,000 to 500,000 or some 5% of the total population as being Roma (based on a voluntary declaration of status). The official language is Hungarian (magyar). The official language of instruction is Hungarian, but a number of ethnic and national minorities have minority educational institutions with their own languages as first or second language of instruction at primary and secondary level of teaching. The provision of minority education - similarly to mainstream education - is the task of the maintainer, which, in most cases is the local government.


2. Brief description of the Hungarian educational system

Education is compulsory up to the age of 18. Vocational studies may not be commenced before the age of 16, up to which pupils are to acquire fundamental education.

2.1. Óvoda (pre-primary) - one preparatory year, compulsory (ISCED 0-1) Age 5-6/7
2.2. Általános iskola (primary) (ISCED 1 + 2) Age 6/7-14 (1st cycle: age 6-10; 2nd cycle: age 10-14)
2.3. Secondary school
2.3.1. Gimnázium (general lower and upper secondary) (ISCED 2+ 3) Age 10/12/14 - 18/19
2.3.2. Szakközépiskola - vocational secondary school (ISCED 3) Age 14-18/19/20 (generally: 4years)
2.3.3. Szakiskola[1] (C course) - vocational training school (ISCED 3) Age 14-18 years (2+2 years)
2.3.4. Szakiskola[2] (A course / B course[3]) - remedial (ISCED 2)+ vocational training school (ISCED 3 ) Age 15/16-18/19 (1-2 +2years)
2.3.5. Szakiskola[4] (D course) - post-secondary vocational course (ISCED 4) Age 18-19/20 (1-2 years)


3. Administrative control

In Hungary early childhood education and care (ECEC) is split system-wise into childcare and early childhood education. 1 Policy responsibility for children from birth up to approximately 3 years of age (childcare) falls under the Secretariat of Health, Social and Family Affairs (of the Ministry of National Resources). Whereas the Secreteriat of Education (of the Ministry of National Resources) has responsibility for the early education and care of children 3-7 years, which is seen as the first stage of public education (kindergarten). Vertically, the administrative control is decentralized and the managing responsibility is shared among the central (national), the local (regional) and the institutional levels. The local governments administer pre-primary, primary and secondary education. The different establishments enjoy a fair degree of decision-making autonomy not only in terms of organization and functioning but also with regard to their budgets. As regards public education (pre-school education, primary, secondary school based general and vocational education) the financial support is supplied by the annual State budget enacted by the Parliament.

Local governments and other school maintainers (i.e. Churches, private foundations,) usually have to complement the central budget support. Their contribution to the local educational expenditure is equivalent to 30-50% of the total costs. Vertically, the administration of education and training institutions is largely decentralized. Local authorities, whose number is over three thousand, are not simply responsible for the management of the public education institutions operating within their administrative area, but make decisions on financial and human resources (i.e. approval of the institutions' budget and appointing their heads) and also have to approve, as well as watch over the effective implementation of their pedagogical programs. In this study we will discuss early childhood education - kindergartens.


4. Early childhood education in Hungary

4.1. Brief history of kindergartens

The first official kindergarten was established in Hungary in 1828 and was the first kindergarten in Central Europe. Through the first half of the 19th century kindergartens were operated as pre-school institutions with a strong emphasis on education with only a secondary emphasis on play. By 1938 already, more than a quarter of 3-6 year old children were in kindergarten. There was little expansion over the next decades with only a third of children in kindergartens in 1960. In 1948, kindergartens were nationalized. They were increasingly seen as providing places for children as more women began working in the paid labor force. In curriculum, more emphasis was placed on preparing children for school. Substantial expansion of kindergartens followed during the late 1950's through the 1980's. By 1965 the number of children attending kindergarten had doubled with a total of 3227 kindergartens in operation. By 1975, two thirds of children were in kindergarten, and this figure increased to 92% for the 5-year olds by 1985. With the transition to democratic government after 1989, kindergarten operation and responsibility shifted to the local governments and most kindergartens operated formerly by industry were closed. In the 1993 Public Education Act, kindergarten was recognized as an official part of the education system and was given the same status as elementary and secondary education in Hungary. Attendance at kindergarten was made compulsory for all children beginning in the fall of the calendar year in which they become 5 years of age.

4.2. Current status of kindergarten

This educational level is considered as a crucially important integrated part of the school system. The kindergarten (óvoda) is the first stage of the Hungarian education system. It caters for children from 3 to 7 years of age. Participation in pre-primary education at this level is optional, except for the final year (beyond age 5), which is compulsory. Compulsory primary education begins at age 6, but all 5-year olds must attend kindergarten and need a kindergarten certificate before enrolling in a general school. Eligibility to enter mainstream primary education is therefore determined by prior kindergarten enrolment: by age (to have turned 6 years before 1st June of the year of enrolment) and by the level of maturity of the child. Because of these conditions, many 6-year-old children remain in kindergarten, while other 6 year olds will already be in primary school.

In school year 2009/2010 a total of 4336 kindergartens were in operation in Hungary serving a total of 328, 545 children in 14,298 groups. Number of kindergarten pedagogues: 30,007; average group-size: 23 children; children ratio per teacher: 11. http://statinfo.ksh.hu/Statinfo/haDetails.jsp Kindergarten coverage is over 90% in the 5 year or above age-group. Since about 1990, the number of children served has remained relatively constant with some reduction reflecting the lowering birth rate in the country. A few kindergartens are operated by churches (84), by private foundations or individuals (172), the central government (33) or others (30). Kindergartens are financed through a combination of national and local funds. The state provides normative grants to cover the costs of kindergarten services, which are determined in the Act on Public Education as a core of basic tasks that need to be fulfilled.

Free compulsory education is guaranteed by law. However, private institutions may set a tuition fee. Public-sector institutions may only charge for services additional to their basic tasks, including for example extra-curricular activities, meals, excursions, etc. Twenty-five children per group is seen as the maximum desirable for kindergarten education in Hungary, but about two of every five kindergartens exceed this number. In recent years, with fewer numbers of children attending, the education authorities have chosen to reduce the number of kindergarten classes rather than to bring class size in line with recommended maximum size.

Significant features of kindergarten all over Hungary are local autonomy and responsiveness to parental needs. Local agencies and schools have the possibility to adapt to their local circumstances one of the 15 approved programs from the national database, e.g. Waldorf, Freinet, Montessori and "Step by Step", or to prepare for approval a local educational/pedagogical program (introduced at institutional level). At the same time, the National Core Program for Kindergarten Education is a regulatory document, and all other programs must include the values, contents and approaches outlined there.

Again, programs are typically open for a full working day to make accommodations for families in which both parents (or a single parent) work. Parents are asked to pay for meals, but low-income families are exempted from this requirement. Those children in kindergarten who are eligible for supplemental child protection allowance receive free meals since September 2003.

4.3.Curricular control and content

Detailed guidelines for the operation of kindergarten programs exist in the National Core Program for Kindergarten Education. School-based program for children aged 3-7 includes basic skills development, pre-reading, drawing, singing and school preparation. Children are assessed by the kindergarten teachers throughout the school year.2 As from September 2004, the revised Act on Public education stipulates that all pupils must be assessed in written, individual analysis. Kindergartens are staffed by kindergarten pedagogues who are required to have a tertiary degree of at least 2500 hours, of which 30% is of a practical nature including observations of kindergarten practice, individual and group sessions, and practical courses. They are helped by kindergarten assistants who provide support to the kindergarten pedagogues in the operation of the kindergarten class. Classes are therefore organized into groups with two pedagogues, and the support of an assistant/cleaner. The assistants do not have to have a secondary education and are able, but not required, to take a specialist examination. Currently some 80% of kindergarten teachers have a tertiary degree and a total of 97% have specialized training.


5. Strengths of Hungarian early childhood education

The Hungarian kindergarten has a long tradition in pedagogical methodology, and its use of music, art, movement/motorial activity and handicrafts has placed it among the most successful kindergarten models in Europe. In over ten percent of kindergartens foreign language (mostly English or German) teaching is part of the curriculum.

5.1. All kindergartens are operated by professionally qualified staff and are able to ensure the well-being and global development of the child, including cognitive and social development according to age and to integrate children at risk as early as possible into full-day, tailored programs based on family outreach and community building. The kindergarten has had for years an active and child-centered methodology, with a strong grasp of how cognitive skills are developed in young children. A global approach to development and competencies is generally applied.

5.2. Kindergarten professionals are able to address needs of children who have learning disabilities, difficulties in vision or hearing impairments, or a tendency toward dyslexia. If such needs are identified early then special experts are placed at their disposal.

5.3. The social dimensions of kindergarten education have been long recognized. Early childhood services have consistently aimed at the balanced development of young children, placing an emphasis on the acquisition of social and learning skills rather than on rote learning and subject knowledge.

5.4. Initial training for kindergarten teachers is generally recognized to be of high quality, and delivers a tertiary level degree to kindergarten pedagogues. In-service training is strong and regular: there is an obligation for kindergarten pedagogues to take on a further 120 training hours each 7 years. The in-service training obligation of teachers is carried out on the basis of a 5 years institutional in-service training plan, which allows kindergarten to plan both the training budget and teacher substitutions as well. The Pedagogical Centre for Further Education Methodology and Information, the county pedagogical institutes and other educational service providers, private as well as public, offer in-service courses for kindergarten teachers.

5.5. In the kindergarten sector, quality assurance and assessment are equally comprehensive. Responsibility for quality assurance is assigned at three levels: education agencies (under the supervision of the ministry); at local level a network of County Pedagogical Institutes, the National Register of Education Experts (of which over 400 are kindergarten experts) and the supervisors and counselors of pedagogical institutes; and the maintainers (in general local governments). The head and staff of each kindergarten are expected to provide comprehensive documentation on management, the programs in use and on the progress of each child. The Ministry provides support to kindergartens to engage in self-evaluation procedures and to determine for themselves what support, training and certification they need.

5.6. If the parents of 8 minority children so request, the local authority is required to organize a special minority class or study group. A total of almost 20,000 children are enrolled in ethnic kindergartens, which represents about 5.4% of the total age group. Minority children may receive instruction in their mother tongue, in Hungarian or both in their mother tongue and Hungarian. The regulations recommend that external evaluations carried out in kindergartens providing for national and ethnic minorities should be made in the language of the group, or at least include an expert speaking the language. The results must be communicated to the relevant minority local government and to the national minority government. Kindergartens with minority children can claim special normative grants for language, or in the case of Roma, for the transmission of Roma culture, the fostering of traditions, or for compensatory Hungarian language activities. They are eligible for normative grants attached to children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and can claim grants for integrated education.


6. Issues to be addressed

Over 80% of all children between the ages of 3 and 7 attend kindergarten. This ratio could be ideally increased if certain conditions could be improved.

6.1. Improving access for children in under-served rural settlements
Kindergarten shortages appear in the rural areas of Hungary. In general, the settlements which provide neither a childcare centre nor a kindergarten are the small rural communities with less than 2000 inhabitants, representing about 17% of the population. Many of theses settlements have too few children to support a centre or a kindergarten and/or do not have the expertise to conduct early childhood services. There are efforts to support these settlements by organizing bus-commuting for children to greater settlements or to encourage the establishment of kindergartens commonly operated by more communities.

6.2. Segregated programs for children with disabilities have a long history in Hungary as in many other parts of the world. This long tradition of segregated education seems to be particularly difficult to overcome despite the expressed aims of public policy and committed practitioners. The 1996 revisions to the Public Education Act gave an impetus, however, to provision for children with special needs in kindergartens: each child with a speech-based or light mental disability should receive the normative grant equivalent to that for two healthy children, whereas, children with a physical or sensorial disability, autistic children and children with medium severity disabilities should receive a grant equivalent to three children. The pressure to receive children with disabilities is increasing, and their numbers in kindergartens have tripled in the past 10 years. In spite of the efforts and administrative measures still more than half of children with disabilities do not attend kindergarten. A network of 8 large special residential kindergartens operates in major towns as well as 50 smaller kindergartens throughout the country. There are also day and residential special kindergartens for children with visual and hearing impairments, severe speech and mobility disabilities.

Transition from both integrated and special kindergarten to primary education proves difficult for children with disabilities and most of them will continue in special education with the associated stigma and disadvantages. A system of early development and consulting services has been established since 1992. There are presently approximately 180 centers throughout the country employing some 350 experts to help approximately 3000 families caring for a child with a disability at home. The situation is improving gradually, but still too few children with special needs are being served in an inclusive way with other children. Experts agree that reaching these children early is critical to their long-term well being.

6.3. ECEC for Roma children
Explicit policy efforts and a number of practical measures of legal, administrative as well as financial character aimed at improving access to quality education of children with multiple social disadvantages and reducing latent and deliberate segregation practices in education, mostly affecting children of Roma origin, have so far produced modest results. Real improvements are being recorded in Roma enrolment but there are still serious barriers to be overcome - linked to history, employment and socio-economic status - both from within the Roma community and from without. Over a quarter of all children in kindergarten are 6 years or older, a large proportion of whom are Roma children. It is disputed whether parents or kindergarten administrations are responsible for this situation. Among teachers, there is the concern that the children are not ready for the transition at the normally expected time or that the programs to which these children are transitioning are not appropriate for them. Many Roma children do have learning difficulties, but these difficulties stem generally from external factors such as: extreme poverty, the difficult adaptation to mainstream culture, lack of contact with Hungarian language, lack of knowledge of the behaviors required by mainstream culture and institutional life. As opposed to the decreasing non-Roma population, the number of Roma people is growing, and according to demographic forecasts, their proportion within the population will grow in the next 50 years from the current 5% to 11%. The issue continues to be problematic in Hungary as the socio-economic status of the group is low, and the participation of Roma children in childcare, kindergarten and later education is weak compared to the mainstream population. In the process of combating all forms of segregation, whether open or latent, a number of measures have already been taken toward this direction. Some of them had an immediate impact on prohibiting eventual segregating practices. In this context, special attention is given to resolutely ensure inclusive education to children of Roma origin. Besides legal measures and generous financial incentives, special pedagogical programs, and tools as well as teacher training is developed in favor of inclusive education and training. Also a special "anti-segregation watchdog" network is put in place. The 2003 amendment of the Act on Public Education attempted to mitigate early selection and segregation by legislative instruments. These instruments primarily included the minimalization of grade repetition in the initial grades (ISCED1), the prescription of the application of narrative evaluation, the extension of pre-school education (ISCED0) provision, the modernization of the network of vocational schools, the integration and desegregation of Roma and disadvantaged children, and the integration of children with special educational needs.


1. Childcare and education go hand-in-hand in kindergartens. But gradually the focus goes from childcare (early ages like 3,4 years) to education focus (5,6 years).

2. Children are quietly assessed and the kindergarten teachers provide the parents with a written assessment every three month.



Ministry of Culture and Education (1997), The Hungarian Core Programme of Kindergarten Education,
Budapest, Ministry of Culture and Education.

National Institute of Public Education (OKI),(2003), Integration versus Segregation: Hungarian Roma
Education Policy Note Nemeth et al. Budapest, National Institute of Public Education.

Puporka, Lajos and Zadori, Zsolt (1999), The Health Status of Romas in Hungary. Budapest, Bajapress.

OECD Directorate for Education (2004) Early childhood education and care policy Hungary: Country Note for Hungary