Hungary Appoints Ministerial Commissioner for the Integration of Roma and Disadvantaged Children

On July 24, 2002, Mr Bálint Magyar, the Hungarian Minister of Education, appointed Ms Viktória Mohácsi Bernathné, a 27-year-old Romani woman, Commissioner for the Integration of Roma and Disadvantaged Children. Ms Mohácsi Bernathné was formerly an ERRC employee involved in the design of a joint strategy for the desegregation of Romani children in education in Hungary by the ERRC and the Roma Participation Program of the Open Society Institute. In an August 5, 2002 interview with the Hungarian national daily newspaper Népszabadság, Ms Mohácsi Bernathné stated that she wanted to see the elimination of pervasive inequalities in educational opportunity. Ms Mohácsi Bernathné criticised the system of supplementary allocation of funds to public schools for so-called "catch-up classes", which in practice disadvantage Romani children rather than help them integrate in the educational system, stating that these classes place Romani children at even greater disadvantage. "These pupils are taught separately, the idea being that they can eventually be integrated into normal classes […]. However, experience shows that schools claim this funding for the duration of primary education. Thus, schools receive extra resources but pupils paradoxically find themselves in an even more disadvantaged position, placed in catch-up classes for eight years. According to researchers, pupils attending catch-up classes fall so seriously behind compared to their peers in normal classes that, by sixth grade, it is already impossible to integrate them into so-called normal classes." Ms Mohácsi Bernathné said that she wanted catch-up classes reformed so that they accelerate the integration of Romani children and set a fixed period of time of two to three years for the catch-up classes to be completed.

The Budapest-based Roma Press Center (RSK) further reported on October 11, 2002, that the Ministry of Education had begun the process of setting up National Integration Centres and Networks in fifty-three regions to provide support to disadvantaged students. The Centres will also function as a tool to aid in the closure of the over seven hundred segregated classes, change the practice which directs every fifth Romani child into schools for the mentally disabled, and thereby increase the chances of Romani children to continue their studies. Ms Mohácsi Bernathné stated to RSK that the new institution would only be effective if paired with anti-discrimination law. More information on the education of Roma in Europe is available at: http://lists.errc.org/publications/position/education.shtml

(ERRC, Népszabadság, RSK)

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