Hungary and Roma Education

Since 2005 the Roma Education Fund has directed its efforts to closing the gap in educational achievements between Roma and non-Roma, including efforts to desegregate national education systems. Since 2010 in Hungary, REF sought to prove to educational authorities that school segregation caused irrevocable damage to Roma pupils’ future prospects. In Hungary, under an EU-supported project spanning 2010-2012, and further grants to the present-day, REF has invested in providing quality, inclusive early childhood education, promoting further school success for Roma children in mainstream schools.

Background

Hungary claims to have some of the most Roma-friendly policies in the region regarding education, adopting a National Strategy for Roma Integration in 2011. But it has embarked on a series of contradictory policies negatively affecting Roma. The government has made kindergarten compulsory for children over age three yet reduced the mandatory school-age to 16. It discontinued EU-funded study halls and channeled Roma university students into faith-based dormitories. More broadly, the government aims to restrict spaces in academic-track high schools (gymnasia) and push the majority of students into vocational schools. All of these policies have a way of negatively impacting Roma education. 

Other than disputing a European Court of Human Rights judgment in 2013 (Horvath and Kiss v. Hungary) that was unfavorable to Hungary and its policy of segregating Roma students in so-called special schools, little has been done by the government to end segregation in Hungary. In fact, it controversially endorsed segregation through changes to the Public Education Act in 2014, ignoring evidence from development and advocacy organizations like the Roma Education Fund that segregation damages children’s future school and life success.

Through its evidence-based policymaking where its pilot projects feed into its unique models and research, the Roma Education Fund has succeeded in creating impact on the ground in the communities in which it works in Hungary. In particular, REF targeted Roma settlements that had received exceptionally poor quality educational services in Nyiregyhaza with a package of interventions to spark the community’s participation in education, including transferring students to mainstream schools. Further advocacy work by grantees like the Chance for Children Foundation was instrumental in the Hungarian courts to highlighting and pausing policies supporting Roma school segregation. 

Undeterred, the Hungarian government, with a near absolute majority in Parliament, simply modified the education act to reflect its wish to segregate Roma students in 2014.  

Brought to the attention of the European Commission, now DG Justice will pursue the case at the pan-European level, effectively suing the Hungarian government for its discriminatory policies in education. 

From our work in Nyiregyhaza with grantees like Give Me Your Hand Association REF has concluded from six years of field work that investing in integrated early childhood can achieve real impact and outcomes for Roma children and their families. Establishing reading circles, inviting parents to teach and constant community outreach have changed the outlook on education. 

But our mission is made that much harder so long as the Hungarian government endorses and sponsors so-called ghetto schools.

Recent press in Hungarian on school segregation appeared in Nepsava and NOL.  

About the Hungarian Infringement Case

The Chance for Children Foundation (a grantee of both REF and OSF) fought against segregation schooling of Roma children in Nyiregyhaza. They brought this issue in front of the local court and the first verdict decided that the education of Roma pupils in Huszartelep constituted segregation. 

The Greek Catholic Church ignored the decision and restarted the school. A second verdict was reached by a Debrecen court in December 2014: CFCF won again and it meant the government and Greek Orthodox Church school had to stop this practice. 

The government could not accept these judgments and modified the Public Education Act, passed in December 2014. 

The government said it was only a church school helping a poor Roma community near their homes and they are free to practice their religion. The third court judgment was a step back: it declared the Huszartelep kindergarten and primary schools are not examples of segregation, and they can work legally based on the modified Public Education Act.

In 2016 the European Commission started to dealing with this case and opened an infringement procedure against the Hungarian government. It is expected that the Hungarian government will be sanctioned by the EC and will have to close the school.

Some Recent Findings on the Impact of Hungarian Education Policies on Roma

Lack of civil institution support because of government policies

The Roma Education Fund and also RomaVersitas have been providing support, stipends and scholarships for Roma students for over ten years. The government has since copied REF’s models but diluted them. Currently, less Roma students are applying to higher education in Hungary.

Government programs have effectively blocked NGOs and civil sector from entering schools or working with disadvantaged students.

New structure and content at upper secondary level VET

It is no longer possible to change field of study when switching faculties before the completion of all four years

Compulsory apprenticeships in ninth grade 

Legal changes and main consequences

Changes in mandatory school-age limit 

Financing of child and youth protection specialist jobs suspended

New definition of the disadvantaged and multiply disadvantaged categories (HH and HHH or 2H and 3H)

School Segregation

Modified Public Education Act

Greece Orthodox church cooperating with the government to implement “legal” segregation

For more on this story, contact:

Dr. Marius Taba, Research and Advocacy Manager, mtaba@romaeducationfund.org

Dr. Zsolt Kalanyos, Country Facilitator for Hungary, zsolt.kalanyos@romaeducationfund.org