In Hungary, the system of early childhood education and care (ECEC) comprises two stages and is bi-sectoral (social care and education). The first stage is the provision of non-compulsory institutional care for children aged 0–3 years, either with full fees being charged or subsidised by the state (nursery; outside the scope of the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED)). The second stage is mandatory for all children – with the possibility of exemption - from the age of 3 years until school age, and it is free of charge (kindergarten; ISCED level 020). The institutional system of the two stages are overseen by two ministries: Nurseries are supervised by the Ministry of Culture and Innovation, whereas kindergartens, as part of the public education system, fall under the responsibility of the Ministry of Interior.
Nursery care (care for children under the age of 3 years)
Daycare for children under the age of 3 years must be provided within the framework of nursery care. All forms of formal care for children under the age of 3 years are considered nursery care.
Since 1 January 2017, daycare for children has been provided in two forms: centre-based provision (nurseries and mini-nurseries) and non-centre-based types of service provision (family nurseries and workplace nurseries).
The aim of nursery education is for young children to acquire the skills and abilities that will help them to behave effectively and in a balanced way in their own cultural environment, and to successfully adapt to changes. Nursery education achieves this through approaches and methods that respect the primacy of family care.
A further aim of nursery care is to carry out prevention activities for all young children and their families, in line with a broad interpretation of the approach to early childhood intervention. Institutions providing nursery care, as family-friendly institutions and services, contribute to improving the quality of life of families and increasing the employability of parents.
Different types of settings offer nursery care.
Nurseries are the most common providers of childcare for children under the age of 3 years. In the system of nursery care, ‘nursery’ refers to the traditional institution of a nursery, which provides daycare in accordance with the national core programme of nursery education and care.
In addition to basic care, nurseries can support families by providing special advisory services, temporary childcare, a residential service and other childcare services.
Nurseries may provide a residential service, providing up to 24 hours of continuous care for a child whose parents are temporarily unable to take care of them. The service can also be provided during weekends and holidays, but its duration may not exceed 10 days of care per child within a school year.
Another institutional service is the playgroup. In playgroups, children and parents can play together – with the help of the person providing nursery services.
Mini-nurseries are institutions providing professional nursery care and education in smaller groups than in nurseries, and under simpler rules governing personnel, materials and operation. Local governments can now establish this type of institution if there is a need to care for a maximum of seven young children (or eight children, if all are over the age of 2 years) in a settlement.
A workplace nursery is a daycare service maintained by an employer primarily for the children of persons engaged in occupational activities for the employer. A service-type nursery, which does not operate within an institutional framework, may operate primarily on the premises where the work is performed, at a property owned by the employer or at a property rented for this purpose by the employer. A workplace nursery group can care for a maximum of seven children.
A kindergarten is an institution that cares for a child from the age of 3 years until the beginning of compulsory school education. Kindergartens gradually prepare the child for school education, especially in the final kindergarten year. As specified by the national core programme of kindergarten education, the aim of kindergarten education is to promote the multifaceted, harmonious development of children, to promote the development of children’s personalities and to mitigate disadvantages, considering the ages, individual characteristics and different developmental stages of children (including children with special educational needs).
Participation in kindergarten care is obligatory for children aged 3 years for at least 4 hours per weekday. According to the Public Education Act (§8(2)), children must attend kindergarten from 1 September of the year in which they reach the age of 3 years until 31 August of the following year. At the request of the child’s parent, the body designated by Government Decree may exempt the child from compulsory participation until the age of 4 years, or, in cases of special consideration, upon a further request until 31 August of the year in which the child reaches the age of 5 years, if the family circumstances or the special situation of the child justify it.