Parliamentary Ombudsman for Minority Rights declares Hungarian education system discriminatory

On September 6, 1999, the Hungarian Minister of Education, Mr Zoltán Pokorni, stated in a press conference held jointly with Mr Jeno Kaltenbach, the Parliamentary Ombudsman for Ethnic and Minority Rights, that segregation exists in the Hungarian education system. The admission came on the heels of the recent report by the Ombudsman's office which found that the large percentage of Romani students in special schools is not a result of their weaker mental abilities, but a sign of prejudice and the failure of the public education system. The report concluded that the system of so-called "special schools" — schools for mentally disabled children — serves the purpose of excluding socially disadvantaged children from normal public education. A survey by the Ombudsman's office of Borsod County in northeastern Hungary conducted in late 1998 discovered that 90% of children in special schools are Roma. The Ombudsman proposed a review of the legal regulations which provide for the education of mentally disabled children. Minister Pokorni accepted the Ombudsman's recommendations, and announced that a National Board for Public Education, Evaluation and Exam Administration will monitor the professional standards of special education. As this issue of Roma Rights went to press, this board did not yet exist.

Meanwhile, rights activists in Hungary were dismayed to learn that on August 20, 1999, the Ministry of Education had presented an award to Mr Miklós Filep, the director of the János Földi primary school in Hajdúhadház, eastern Hungary, for outstanding work in the field of education. The school achieved national prominence in September 1998 when a teacher attacked Romani pupils with a knife. Several investigations of the János Földi primary school by the office of the Ombudsman for Minority Rights have shown that Romani children are separated from non-Romani children and receive a lower level of education. The ERRC sent an open letter to the Minister of Education asking for an explanation as to why Mr Filep had been presented with the award and to protest the separation of Romani and non-Romani children at the school. As of November 29, 1999, the ERRC letter remains unanswered.

(Roma Press Center, ERRC)

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