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Maria Theresa’s edict introduced compulsory education for all in 1777

EMPRESS Maria Theresa made a host of reforms transforming the feudal Great Hungary into a modern, centralised country. One of the last to come was the compulsory basic education for everyone, which was established by the special curriculum called Ratio Educationis, issued on August 22, 1777. It introduced six years of compulsory school attendance for all children between the age of six and 12.

EMPRESS Maria Theresa made a host of reforms transforming the feudal Great Hungary into a modern, centralised country. One of the last to come was the compulsory basic education for everyone, which was established by the special curriculum called Ratio Educationis, issued on August 22, 1777. It introduced six years of compulsory school attendance for all children between the age of six and 12.

The first to come up with the idea of compulsory education was John Amos Comenius, a Czech teacher, educator and writer who became a religious refugee in his homeland, fled persecution to the Netherlands and was one of the earliest champions of universal education in the 17th century. However, his idea started to be implemented in the Hungarian Kingdom only in the second half of the 18th century, under Maria Theresa.

In 1774, the General School Order came into existence, as elaborated mainly by Ignác Felbiger, and in effect for the western part of the empire, in Austria. It differentiated three types of schools: trivial, main and normal. They were established by municipalities and patrons from among nobility. Children from poor families were exempt from paying school fees. Trivial schools were comprised of a single class and were established at parish churches. One teacher taught the pupils to read, write, count and also handled theology. In some towns children were also instructed in skills necessary for crafts.

The school reform required the building of a dense network of public schools. Thus, the state declared its interest in having all citizens receive at least a basic education.

The most important step in the whole reform was the introduction of six years of school attendance for children from six to 12 years of age. For the first time, girls were also able to attend school; until then, they had practically no way to educate themselves, unless they were in a noble family.

Maria Theresa’s son, Joseph II, introduced punishments for violating the school attendance rules in 1781, but the idea was implemented only slowly. The Hungarian parliament adopted the law only in 1868 and social and ethnic pressure in Slovak villages meant that until 1918, compulsory attendance of only three of four years in winter was applied instead of a full six years. Some people in more rural areas attended school for only two, three or four winters, as in other months children were forced to help with the farm.

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