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Hungary nationalises its school textbook market

A boy holds a textbook of the Chess Palace teaching programme at the Dezso Lemhenyi school in Budapest, 15 October 2013.
A boy holds a textbook of the Chess Palace teaching programme at the Dezso Lemhenyi school in Budapest, 15 October 2013.

REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

Hungary's Parliament has adopted a law to nationalize the school textbook market. From 1st September 2014, a state-owned body will create and publish school books which will be provided free of charge to primary schools. Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government justified the move by claiming that the current system has allowed publishers to generate huge profits through over-supplying schools with textbooks.

From now on, only two books will be available per subject and class.

The move has been roundly condemned within Hungary. Educators fear the law will be pedagogically harmful: Zoltan Pokarni, head of Hungary's Committee for Education, Science and Research and a member of the governing party, was among those to vote against the law.

Péter László Zentai, Director of the Hungarian Publishers' and Booksellers' Association, told the IPA that “the publishers that have been deprived of their market will presumably have to turn to the Strasbourg court. The sad thing is, even if the court finds in their favour in 3 or 4 years' time, they will all have gone bankrupt by then”.

Graham Taylor, Chairman of the International Publishers Association's Education Committee, was baffled by the move. “This used to happen all the time in Africa in the 1980s, invariably leaving a wasteland of under provision when the state scheme collapsed under its own weight. I never thought I would see anything like this in Europe. Teachers should be free to choose the textbooks they use with their students, not have then imposed by state bureaucrats”.

Jens Bammel, Secretary General of the IPA was similarly damning in his criticism. “This measure will destroy educational publishing in Hungary. These policies have failed so often that we did not seriously expect any government to even consider them”.

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