Primary education of Roma: the case of Hidas, Hungary, 1998

05 January 1999

Alison Pickup and Viktória Mohácsi


On 28 and 29 September, 1998, the ERRC visited the village of Hidas in Southern Hungary. Hidas is situated thirty-five kilometres north of Pécs on the No.6 main road to Budapest. It has an estimated population of 2,500 — 3,000. There are three minority groups living in Hidas: Germans, Beash and Vlach Roma.

Approximately 120 Roma live in Hidas, in two distinct areas. The two settlements are situated at opposite extremes of the village. This creates problems in communication with both the Hungarian majority and the German minority, as well as making transport to school difficult for the Romani children.

The Hungarian settlement in Hidas was created after the Second World War and most of the inhabitants were originally from the Székely region of Romania. The Székely dialect and the Beash language are almost identical. During the 1998 election campaign for the Minority Self-Government, the posters were made in three languages (Hungarian, Vlach and Beash) and only then did the Hungarians realise that they understood the Beash language.

One of the settlements is on Akác Street on the east side of the No. 6 road. The land here is publicly owned and the families have built their own houses. For this reason most of the Roma living here do not have a permanent place of residence. This means that many of them do not have identity cards, therefore they cannot vote. The settlement is obviously poor. Most families live in single room houses, which are generally not painted outside. There is at least one telephone, shared between several families, and some Roma have cars. Few of the Roma here are employed.

There is a smaller settlement at the other end of the village. The ERRC visited one household here, where four families lived in one large house. The house was previously a pub. None of the Roma living here was employed and their only income was child support. A few of the men did not have an identity card and cannot afford to pay for the necessary documents to obtain one. Again, this meant that they were not able to vote. Although the house was quite large, it was obviously not big enough for four families, including eleven children, and there was a lot of tension caused by the lack of space. The grandparents of the family also lived in the house.

Most of the Roma in Hidas were previously employed in large factories or in the local mine. After the fall of Communism, they nearly all lost their jobs. The municipality is involved in the "public works scheme", where any work carried out which is of benefit to the general public and provides work for the unemployed is subsidised by the national Labour Office. The Roma told us that one such scheme locally had been to build tennis courts, which were subsequently rarely used. On the other hand, when one of the Roma had suggested setting up a school bus service to take children living out of the centre of the village into school, he was told that there was not enough money available.

Minority Education

The aim of the ERRC's visit to Hidas was to attend a meeting of the local council concerning the school curriculum and the inclusion of minority language teaching and Romani cultural elements in the curriculum.

Legal regulation According to Act LXXVII of the Government of Hungary on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities, Chapter 6 "The Cultural and Educational Autonomy of Minorities", Article 43, paragraph 4:

"At the request of the parents or legal representatives of eight students belonging to the same minority group, it is compulsory to establish and run a minority class or group."

Since a consistent minority legal system was developed in Hungary that provides equal rights in every aspect of life to the Romani population along with other minorities, the regulations concerning the education of Romani students do not form a separate set of rules. At the same time the regulation generally takes into consideration the requirements arising from the unique situation of the Romani population. The law concerning the rights of minorities, for example, declares that particular conditions can be created for the education of Romani students.

The legal system and its regulatory content changed in some significant points in 1996 and 1997. The new regulation system was created by the 1996 amendment to the 1993/LXXIX Act on public education, the ratification of the National Core Curriculum and the preparation of educational guidelines for the pre-school and school education of national and ethnic minorities. The aim of the new regulation was to harmonise the minority legal system with the 1993/LXXVII Act on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities and the regulation of minority education; to extend the system of minority related preferential regulations; and to extend the new system of public educational content regulation into the field of minority education.

Background to the case There is an eight-grade primary and music school (Általános és Zeneiskola) in Hidas, with approximately 220 pupils. Twenty-five of the pupils are Roma and ten are from the German minority. The school is governed by a board of teachers and by the municipal council. The curriculum currently contains the following:

  • Basic primary education
  • Nationality education (German)
  • Ethnic education (Romani special needs programme)
  • Basic artistic education (Music school).

In the school there are, as previously mentioned, ten pupils of German nationality, who received nationality education without their parents having to request it, whilst there is no Romani minority education despite the fact that the parents of more than eight children had requested it.

Ms Anna Orsós, Romani mother of two pupils at the Primary School, told the ERRC:

"When my children began school this year in September they realised that they had been separated from the other children. They were attending a Romani special needs programme whilst the others were learning German. I take regular care of my children and I help them with their studies. So far they have always come home with the best grades and there have been no problems with them in school. I don't understand why they need to attend the Romani special needs programme. Maybe it's true that there are some Roma children in Hidas who are behind, but the fact that my children are attending the Romani special needs programme proves that they put all the Roma children into one group. When I asked the teachers to move my children into the other, Hungarian group they said that it was out of the question."

The Romani special needs programme and the German nationality programme are timetabled for the same time. This means that if a Roma child wants to learn German or a German child Romani, it's physically impossible.

And what about the Hungarians? According to the school curriculum there are no pupils of Hungarian nationality in the Primary School.

If there are members of a national or ethnic minority registered at a school, the school receives 24,000 Hungarian forints per year for each such student. To be identified as a member of a minority it is enough to say "I am Roma" or "I am German". So the Hidas School Board suggested to the parents that every pupil declare themselves to be German. In this way the school receives subsidies for its 185 Hungarian pupils as well as the thirty-five minority pupils (twenty-five Roma and ten Germans). The school spends the extra subsidies on German lessons and the Romani special needs classes. This means that from the start of primary school the pupils all study German, except for the Roma. This is the so-called "equality of opportunity".

The Case

Tibor Derdák of the Pécs-based Romani organisation Amrita was the first to notice this problem and he began to work towards a solution. The organisation asked Katalin Vég, an official expert of the Ministry of Education, to examine the case and decide whether it was legal. Ms Vég came to the conclusion that the request of the Romani parents for Romani minority education was legitimate. She drew no other conclusions. She also stated that it was entirely in the hands of the school whether they reacted to the Romani parents' request.

Two months before the start of the school year, with the help of Amrita, the Roma parents asked the school for the current school curriculum. The primary school was unable to provide such information to the parents, and advised them that the local self government would be able to provide them with the information. According to Anna Orsós, she went to the local government as the legal guardian of her two school-age children to request information about the school curriculum, and only after a lot of persuasion did one of the workers in the local government offices hand over the application form for minority education.

"I had material in my hands which I believed to be part of the school curriculum, but it was just an empty application form. At this point I asked Tibor Derdák for help, for somebody to seriously step in on this affair, because they didn't take me seriously. I think that they generally don't take Gypsies seriously in this affair. This is also the reason why the segregation could take place in the school," she told the ERRC.

Derdák stepped in as an official consultant in the case and began to hold meetings with the school board. He looked through the documents which he had been given, and reacted to various points. First, and most importantly, to the two current practical solutions to the problem of minority education, as well as the exclusion of all Roma students from the German language classes attended by all non-Roma students, into special classes whether they belonged there or not.

On September 28 the fourth meeting with the school board and the municipal council was held and this is the one that the ERRC attended. The number of meetings in itself shows that it was not easy to persuade the board to alter the curriculum.

The Roma parents had requested that their children be taught the Romani language and Romani culture, but this was not agreed. After much effort and persuasion, the Roma parents and Amrita convinced the school board that their children also had the right to attend German classes, and so it was agreed that the Roma children would also be allowed to study German. However, the school curriculum remained unchanged, such that the Romani special needs classes and the German classes took place at the same time.


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