"Educate them? We ought to shoot them." -- Hungarian man from Nagykanizsa,
giving his opinion on plans to open a private high school for Roma students.
Lack of access to education continues to be
one of the greatest barriers separating Roma from the larger Hungarian
society. Almost no Roma complete high school or university; more than half
effectively drop out of the school system before completing eighth grade.
Throughout the country, Roma leaders and parents interviewed by Human Rights
Watch/Helsinki cited improvement in the educational possibilities for Roma
youth as one of their most pressing concerns. Where Roma do attend school,
they do not receive the same educational opportunities as Hungarians. Roma
children are frequently isolated in segregated classes; in the larger cities,
schools are increasingly divided into "Gypsified" and "Gypsy-free schools",
and the system of "remedial" schools is used as a means of warehousing
Roma have historically been excluded from the parallel system of schools
designed to teach minority children in their own language and culture.
Post-communist governments have made only marginal efforts to improve this
situation. Resistance to cultural education for Roma is very strong within
the mainstream society, though there is broad acceptance of cultural education
for Hungary's other minorities.
The Present Situation
Formal educational possibilities for Roma changed
dramatically following 1989, although educational practice has changed
little. Recent laws have accorded Roma the same status before the law as
other minorities, including the right to educational facilities that teach
the minority language and culture.
Yet the level of education among Roma in Hungary continues to be extremely
low. As economist Gabor Kertesi notes, "The participation of young Roma
in higher education has always been marginal. In recent years, however,
it has shrunk to the point of near invisibility." Despite a rise in the
number of Roma children who finish primary school and a subsequent rise
in the literacy rate (today between 60 to 75% of Roma children finish grade
school), it is still extremely rare for these children to advance beyond
this level. Although nearly half of all Hungarian children continue their
studies beyond the eighth grade at a secondary school, only 3% of all Roma
children are admitted to secondary school, and of these a mere 1% go on
to university. [Report of the Research on the Hungarian Roma Community
between October 1993 and February 1994, conducted by Istvan Kemeny, Gabor
Havas, and Gabor Kertesi for the Institute of Sociology of the Hungarian
Academy of Sciences, p8].
The difficulties faced by Roma children are made
more intractable by the segregation of Roma children into different classes
or even different schools as early as the first grades of primary school;
this has created an increasingly polarized educational system in Hungary.
Despite being a minority of only 5% of the total population, Roma are much
more likely to study with other Roma than with Hungarians.
Roma children are routinely shifted into separate classes. While the
formation of a 100% Roma class is relatively rare, it is quite common for
a single class in a school to have a much higher percentage Roma students
than the other classes of the same age group, or than the population in
the community as a whole.
In many communities, these concentrations of Roma are found in so-called
remedial classes. These classes in theory provide students with extra help
and aim to reintegrate them into the mainstream educational system at a
later grade; in reality, such reintegration never takes place.
Roma families interviewed in the town insisted
that their children were ignored in the "special class," and that even
the brighter, more prepared Roma children were kept there. Tibor Szegedi,
a Roma serving on the city council of the nearby city of Barcs, protested
the formation of an all-Roma class at the local primary school in 1994:
Last September, the school organized a Gypsy class. It was a completely
separate, completely Gypsy class. The parents were very upset -- some tried
to transfer their children to the only other primary school in town, but
they were told it was already full. So I organized a meeting with the principal,
at which he assured the parents that this class would benefit their children.
I went to visit later in the year to observe the class, and I saw that
the kids were not getting any special attention. The teacher simply wasn't
dealing with them. I know all of the children in that Gypsy class; some
of them are very intelligent. If my child had been that age, I wouldn't
have let him go to school there. I would have kept him at home." [Human
Rights/Helsinki interview with Tibor Szegedi, Barcs, July 3, 1995.]
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki has also received reports of schools
in which the letter "C" ("cigany," i.e. Gypsy) was placed on the
wall at the front of the "special class," as recently as 1993.
A Roma parent in Ozd complained:
When our kids are ready for school, we go just hoping that they'll
take them. Lots of times, though, before even seeing the child, they direct
him/her to the "special school." What do they mean "special school?" In
plain language, that means Gypsy school or remedial school. Why do they
send our children there without even examining them? Even though my child
knows as much as a Hungarian child, they still sent him to the "special
school," and that school isn't worth anything. That means that he'll attend
nine classes and come out with only two classes worth of knowledge." [Human
Rights/Helsinki interviews in Roma settlement, Ozd, July 26, 1995]
Indirect Discriminatory Effects
There are also increasing economic barriers preventing
Roma children from completing school. Following the removal or reduction
of state subsidies for books, transportation, and dormitory space, the
cost of equipping a child for school has risen dramatically; many Hungarians
are finding it difficult to pay for books, and the genereally poorer Roma
have even less opportunity. One Roma parent from Baranya county lamented:
"Either they'll have books or shoes. I can't afford both." Szilvia Pusztai,
a Hungarian teacher in Ozd reported: "I have students who can't come to
school because they have no shoes; many of my students have no winter clothes,
and so in the winter they have to stay home."
Many Hungarians send their children to large towns for secondary school,
where they live in dormitories; increasingly, Hungarians are having their
children commute to schools that offer stronger educational programs ,
and where Roma do not attend. The village of Nagyharsany in Baranya county,
for example, is the seat for a grade school that also serves several surrounding
villages, many of which have Roma majorities. Nagyharsany itself is majority
Hungarian, but the school is almost entirely Roma; the Hungarian children
of Nagyharsany almost all attend school in Siklos, a larger town nearby.
Poorer Roma cannot afford to send their children away to school, and instead
must rely on the nearest village school, where the level of instruction
is not as high.