The Development Team of Learning Materials for Reformed Schools is not simply producing traditional textbooks, they are developing modern, customisable digital teaching materials, as well as amplifying forward-thinking initiatives. We asked Zoltán Pompor, who is in charge of the team, what he considers to be the strengths of Reformed education.
What do learning materials developers do on a daily basis?
We lay the groundwork. Strange as it may seem, it is less important to produce textbooks in Budapest, and present them as compulsory teaching materials in Reformed educational institutions in Csurgó, Papkeszi, or any part of Hungary. This is not what schools operate like; first we must earn the trust of teachers. The development of teaching materials can only succeed if teachers themselves are involved in the process.
The Development Team of Learning Materials for Reformed Schools was set up two years ago with the aim of “creating teaching materials that are of a high professional quality in support of Christian education,” to be used in Reformed schools. Subject-based working groups determined the scope of materials to be developed, and their recommendations form the basis of paper-based and digital teaching elements. At the same time, there are plans for the development of a Reformed Curriculum Framework that is in line with the latest Hungarian National Core Curriculum, and this work involves the development of textbooks and supplementary materials. The implementation of the four-year project is funded by the Government of Hungary, with a 1 billion HUF grant.
How did you go about building such trust?
We initiated research projects to gather information about the current situation and needs, and we made a point of including teachers from the outset, not only in the actual development process, but also in brainstorming. We regularly attend the national meetings of institution leaders and institution maintenance representatives, and we are in direct touch with several head teachers in order to discuss subject-related development. It is my hope that there are hardly any Reformed public education institutions in Hungary that have not heard about us. Over the past two years, we have worked with hundreds of individuals who have developed or tested our materials, or simply participated in our events. By now we have formed a clearer understanding of what Reformed schools look like from the inside, and what they would need in terms of subject materials.
So what is this world like?
Compared to the post-Second World War situation when church schools got nationalised, the period since the 1990s has seen a significant growth in the number of Reformed educational institutions, which took place in several stages – by the way, we have included this fact as a statistical analysis in one of our Mathematics theme packages. Perhaps this rapid growth explains the diverse nature of these schools. From the point of view of tradition, the two extremes are the centuries-old re-opened schools on the one hand, and the institutions that have been taken over by the church out of necessity on the other. In our view, we should strengthen teachers’ belief that what makes a school Reformed is not the mere fact that we greet each other by saying “Blessing and peace!” – a Hungarian Reformed custom – or the fact that there are Bible verses inscribed on the walls. What matters more is whether teachers’ Reformed Christian faith is apparent in their everyday work. For example if they consider teaching and educating children to be a vocation and not just a regular job, or if they work in a fully committed way with and for children. We have encountered several such people over the past two years; people whose institutions and personal lives clearly show that they do more than teaching: they educate children in a Christian spirit.
The learning material developers do their best to bring their work closer to others, for example by organising presentation days
What makes educational materials Reformed?
The development of educational materials is governed by law: a certain material can only become a textbook in Hungary today if it is associated with a curriculum framework. Therefore, in order to have accredited Reformed textbooks, a Reformed curriculum framework must be created, and to achieve that, we need a clear view of what Reformed schools think about education, what their image of children is. This is one of the issues that the Reformed public education strategy – currently under development – deals with. We have laid down certain principles, which form the foundation of subject-based developments. We have had over 150 theme packages undergo professional review, and these are to be uploaded onto our online educational materials database, the creation of which is in progress. These will offer a true understanding of what we consider to be high quality, Reformed educational content. Additionally, we are also hoping to achieve a paradigm shift.
In which areas is a paradigm shift necessary?
You would be surprised how many teaching misconceptions and deep-rooted, misguided ideas there are that we would not even consider to be harmful. During the development of the theme packages, for example, we needed to emphasise that they should not be dominated by what the teacher is trying to tell students, since students can access a lot more information on the Internet than what a 45-minute lesson could ever cover. Teachers are no longer the sole source of information. What should be developed, instead, is students’ critical thinking so that they learn how to select relevant information. And the same is true for teachers: I do not believe that we should determine everything down to the last detail, because if we prescribe what each minute of each lesson should look like, teachers are bound to lose their creativity. Teachers should be encouraged to customise the materials offered in a way that suits their own ideas. One of the reasons we did not start by developing complete textbooks but smaller supplementary teaching materials is that our aim is not to provide teachers with a comprehensive package, but to include them in subject-based brainstorming and workshops, and thus discover together the areas that need developing.
Principles of Reformed educational materials development:
• the teaching materials must present the created world in its entirety, highlighting the connections among various phenomena;
• the teaching materials must encourage students to discover the wonders of the created world;
• student activity must be a priority in the process of learning;
• the teaching materials should focus not only on relaying information, but also on forming students’ personality; • the development of critical thinking must prevail in the teaching materials;
• the methods and tools employed must reflect students’ age, the teaching materials should enable differentiated learning;
• the teaching materials must foster cooperation, enabling students to work and learn together;
• the development of first language competences is a task of every subject and every teacher.
Although currently only in test version, the Reformed educational materials database is already available on the Internet. What can you tell us about it?
We test the materials produced during the workshops, and we incorporate the feedback into our theme packages. At the beginning of the present school year we went to four schools and tried whether the materials work in practice, in actual classrooms. Subsequently we discussed with the teachers how they could use these materials in their work. This process made it clear that we would not be creating paper-based materials but digital ones. These are uploaded to a website – teszt.reftantar.hu –, which has also received positive feedback. Our aim is for Reformed teachers to start using this website as their own, contributing their own materials and browsing other teachers’ lesson plans. The ones we consider good enough will undergo professional review and be made available without registration. The website will also feature a discussion forum and a database, which goes to show that we want teachers to have a place to go for ideas and not feel isolated in their work.
Are you planning to publish textbooks as well?
In the long term, naturally, yes, in the second stage of development. One area we consider to be of special significance is first language education. János Lackfi – acclaimed Hungarian author of children’s books and poetry – has written a book for us about the fruits of the soul, and we have just published a recommended reading selection with fifty titles. We are also working on a collection of literary texts for Grades 3 and 4, which can later form the basis of a reading textbook, filled with fresh, interesting and high quality texts that support Christian education. We do not wish to limit teachers’ freedom and decision-making options, but we would like to orient them towards materials that are valuable.
It has been stated before that in return for their support, the government expects the Reformed community to produce educational materials that could set a good example for public educational institutions as well. Do you think other schools can be inspired by the Reformed example?
We have organised two “good practices” fairs in Miskolc: in five sections, nearly thirty institutions and schools showcased their work. There are several innovative initiatives in our schools that are worth learning from, and we would like to amplify these through our work. The Reformed Secondary Grammar School of Kiskunhalas and Baár-Madas Reformed Secondary Grammar School, for example, have adopted a playful, experience- and problem-based way of teaching Mathematics, which has been developed by researchers at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. The Lévay József Reformed Secondary Grammar School in Miskolc and the Lónyay Street Reformed Secondary Grammar School in Budapest have both launched digital classes. Also, we are just as interested in presenting the results of inclusive education in Göncruszka and Nagyharsány, the Grades 1-4 art education programme developed at a Reformed art school in Tata, or the excellent forest school educational materials. Our state-of-the-art materials that foster complex thinking as well as our digital platforms are going to be available for everyone as a source of inspiration.
Reading competition draws to a close
At the beginning of the school year, the Development Team of Learning Materials for Reformed Schools organised a book reading competition for fifth and sixth graders, called “School and football”. Participants had the chance to discover the young adult set reading materials through monthly instalments of reading comprehension, text composition and creative exercises. The four hundred children who entered the competition read two novels, Pecúrok by Miklós Tóth-Máthé in the autumn term, and Egy focista naplójából by Tibor Kármán in the spring term. The competition ended with a gala held on a Saturday, on 8 June 2019, at the Danube Palace, and the best thirty competitors have been granted the opportunity to take part in a four-day summer reading camp. The set texts are supplemented by workbooks and teacher’s materials, which contribute to the development of students’ first-language competences.
Interviewed by György Feke
Translated by Erzsébet Bölcskei
Photos by Vargosz