Romani Education Issues in Hungary

29 October 2003

The Hungarian Ministry of Education has formulated a strategy for the desegregation of schools for the mildly mentally handicapped, according to Ms Viktoria Mohácsi Bernathné, the Ministerial Commissioner for Equal Opportunities for Children of Roma Origin and in Disadvantageous Positions. The strategy states:

"It is a sign of dysfunctions within the system that - although the proportion of the disabled should be the same for all populations - children who are disadvantaged, who are less likely to enforce their rights, and especially Romani children, are strongly over-represented among the students who are classified as disabled. While in the school year 1974/1975, roughly every fourth child attending a special school was Romani, this figure has been continuously increasing over the last two decades, and in the last school statistics (1992), the relevant figure was 42%. (This was the last year before the Data Protection Act took effect making difficult the data collection for the purpose of such statistics.) The survey carried out in Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County in 1998 showed that more than 94% of the students attending a school following a special curriculum were Romani. The report prepared by the Parliamentary Commissioner for National and Ethnic Minority Rights pointed out that there were some schools where the single reason for carrying out the assessment, and the single proposed reason why the child may be disabled, stated on the form requesting the assessment, was being 'of Romani parentage'."

In order to remedy the over-representation of Roma and other disadvantaged children in schools and classes for the mildly mentally handicapped, the strategy envisions the following: The amendment of school statutes which inhibit the introduction of integrated classes; the revision and stricter enforcement of legislation outlining the medical diagnostic criteria for establishing mild mental handicap; the revision of school funding guidelines so as to promote integration; training for teachers and improvement of the Expert and Rehabilitation Committees.

Earlier, one billion Hungarian forints (approximately 4,066,000 Euro) were set aside for grants designed to assist Romani pupils in their pursuit of education, according to Mr Lászlo Teleki, State Secretary for Romani Affairs in the Hungarian Prime Minister's Office, as reported by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) of April 2, 2003. Mr Teleki reportedly announced that the funds would finance the continued studies of eighteen thousand two hundred Romani pupils.

The denial of equal educational opportunities for Roma in Hungary by segregating them in substandard schools was the topic of several earlier media reports. On February 6, 2003, the electronic news source Transitions On-Line (TOL) published a report about the elementary school in the village of Patka, near Székesfehervár in central Hungary. According to the report, out of twenty-four children enrolled in special needs classes in the school, twenty-three were Romani. Romani pupils in the school reportedly took a separate lunch break from the non-Romani pupils and were served lunch on plastic dishes, as opposed to the glass dishes on which the non-Romani children received their lunch. Ms Rita Gram, the mother of a Romani child enrolled in the school, reportedly filed a complaint with Mr Jenő Kaltenbach, the Parliamentary Commissioner for National and Ethnic Minority Rights ("Ombudsman"). TOL quoted the principal of the school, Mr Dénes Benke, defending the segregative practices, stating that the school had to decide between lowering the standard for the whole class and an alternative solution; therefore the Romani pupils were placed in the special class.

Only one Romani boy had been transferred into a regular class in the school, according to the TOL report. The school provides books for him to use. However, he is reportedly not allowed to take them home. Instead, the teachers give him photocopies of the pages he needs. TOL also reported that there are mentally handicapped non-Romani students in the regular class in which the Romani boy is enrolled. Additionally, Mr Benke reportedly stated that ethnic Hungarian parents would remove their children from the school if the Romani children were integrated into the regular classes.

According to TOL, a study published in December 2002 entitled "Romani Children in Elementary Schools" revealed that one third of Romani pupils in Hungary attend classes in which they are the majority. There are reportedly seven hundred and seventy Roma-only classes in Hungary and an additional seven hundred and forty classes in which Roma account for more than three-quarters of the pupils. In all, one in six Romani children are thought to attend classes in which Roma constitute the majority.

The segregation of Romani children into substandard schools and classes is in violation of Hungary's obligations under international laws. Article 3 of the International Convention of the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, to which Hungary is a party, provides, "States Parties particularly condemn racial segregation and apartheid and undertake to prevent, prohibit and eradicate all practices of this nature in territories under their jurisdiction." Article 13(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) reads, "The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to education. They agree that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. They further agree that education shall enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society, promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations and all racial, ethnic or religious groups, and further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace." Further, Article 2(2) of the ICESCR obliges States Parties to ensure that the rights delineated in the Covenant are exercised without discrimination of any kind. More information on violations of Roma rights in Hungary is available on the ERRC's Internet website at:



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