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Hungary is a mid-size, landlocked country located in Central Europe, with a total geographic area of just under 36,000 square miles. Situated in what is known as the Carpathian Basin, the country is bordered to the north by Slovakia, to the east by Romania and Ukraine, to the south by Serbia and Croatia, to the southwest by Slovenia and to the west by Austria. A member country in the European Union, NATO and the OECD, Hungary is considered a major player on the world stage, both politically and economically, especially in and around the country’s capital and largest city, Budapest. Hungary is one of the thirty-most popular tourist destinations worldwide, attracting nearly 9 million visitors each year.
Recent statistical data shows that Hungary now has a population of just over 10 million—a population that, in modern times, has become very ethnically homogenous. Ethnic Hungarians account for approximately 92 percent of Hungary’s population, with Romanians (2%), Germans (1%) and smaller groups from other western and eastern European nations accounting for the remainder. Hungarian is the official language of Hungary—a Uralic language that is unrelated to any neighboring language and only distantly related to Finnish and Estonian. Hungarian is not only used for all official business of the state, including education, but it is the mother tongue of nearly 94 percent of the population. Roman Catholicism, Greek Catholicism and a variety of Protestant faiths, ranked in order of prevalence, are the most oft-practiced religious faiths in the country, but Hungary is also home to a significant number of people who either don’t believe in God and/or do not practice any religious doctrine.
Education in Hungary
Education in Hungary is under the administration of the Ministry of National Resources, headed up by the State Secretary for Education. Despite its new democracy, the educational system in Hungary is still more closely associated with ex-socialist countries than it is to the more modernized and streamlined systems in Western Europe. It is divided between five distinct levels: Pre-school, a non-compulsory stage of education for children between the ages of 3 and 7; general school primary level, consisting of grades one through four for children between the ages of 8 and 12; general school lower secondary level, consisting of grades five through eight for children between the ages of 12 and 16; the upper secondary level, a non-compulsory stage for students aged 16-18; and higher or tertiary education.
Pre-school education, while not mandatory, is a very important stage within the Hungarian system of education. Students are introduced to basic reading, writing and count at this level, but perhaps more importantly, they become accustomed to attending school, interacting and socializing with their peers and following school rules—skills that allow them to successfully transition to compulsory education.
Grades one through eight, the general primary and general lower secondary school years, are the only grades compulsory under the Hungarian system. In these grades, students are introduced to a wide variety of academic areas, through subjects that include mathematics, natural science, Hungarian and one or two foreign languages, history, geography, social and cultural sciences, music, art and physical education.
Students are not required to attend the two-year upper secondary stage of education, but most in the country do, as education is highly valued and a key to social and economic mobility. At this level students have the option of enrolling in a vocational program, where they can earn a work certificate and pursue one of many career fields upon graduation, or a general education secondary school, featuring a curriculum that is entirely academic, with the goal of preparing students for university admission.
Universities in Hungary, both public and private, are responsible for the administration of higher education programs. Students who are eligible for education at this level (students who have completed the general upper secondary stage and achieved a passing score on university entrance examinations) can earn undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate degrees in almost every major academic field. Specialty schools affiliated with the university exist for students pursuing advanced degrees in fields such as medicine, dentistry, engineering and veterinary medicine,
The top-notch quality of the Hungarian school system is reflected in the country’s national adult literacy rate: 99.5 percent and among the best in the world.
Map of Hungary