A new school year has begun in Hungary and a growing number of parents have decided to do something they could not do in the days of Communism, send their children to religious schools.
It is still early in the morning but that has not dampened the enthusiasm of the children at the Julianna Reformed Elementary School in Budapest as they heartily sing a Christian hymn. It is part of the daily ritual at the Julianna School, as is beginning the day with prayer.
Named after the former Queen of the Netherlands, a country with many church ties to Hungary, the Julianna School began in 1926. But like other Christian schools in Hungary, it was forced to close after World War II, when the Communists took over the country. The school remained closed throughout the Communist era. But under Hungary's first democratically elected center-right government in 1992, the Julianna School opened its doors again. In the first year after it re-opened it had 24 pupils; now it has 200.
The primary sponsor of the school is the Hungarian Reformed Church, but parents also play a very active role in the school. Economist Andrea Hosso explains why she and her husband considered it important that their six-year-old son attend the Julianna School. "Church schools usually have better academic achievements. That is one thing. The other thing is they pay a lot of attention to inculcate the right values in children. So the moral upbringing is something we very much like, which goes inside with what we have in our family," says Mrs. Hosso. "So, we think that those values, religious belief, country, family, these are very important values that the school teaches our children. And we wanted to send him to such an environment."
Mrs. Hosso, who is 42, says she wants her son to have a different education than the one she had under Communism. "It was a fairly intimidated country. The atmosphere was subdued. People could not speak their minds. Teachers had to teach whatever was prescribed to them," she says. "Now, that did not matter in math, because math is not an ideological subject. But when it came to history, when it came to literature, when it came to language, you know human sciences, they were not free to teach the truth."
The director of the Julianna School, Judit Sikfalvi, disagrees with those who argue that religion should remain outside the classrooms. Ms. Sikfalvi, who also teaches a course in history, says religion has an important role in a child's education. "Our education is based on biblical values," she says. "We think that both things are important: to bring children up as good people and to teach them academic values." This combination is having a growing appeal in Hungary.
Hungary's ministry of education says that since the collapse of Communism the number of church schools has grown from almost zero to near 500, of which more than 50 are in the capital, Budapest. The country's president, Ferenc Madl, recently said that religious schools account for about six-percent of the country's total educational system.
Kornel Papp is the head of the education department of the Hungarian Reformed Church. Mr. Papp says the interest in church schools is only in part a reaction to decades of Communism and state-sponsored atheism. He says another reason is that, in a time of great change in Hungary, parents believe religion-based schools will, in addition to giving their children a good education, instill in them other values that they could not get in a public school.