In our study, we investigate different aspects of school segregation in the special school of Hungary. We decided to explore four questions that we found crucial about the school segregation of Roma in the special schools of Hungary. Our research will contribute to answering the following questions:
- How Roma students end up in a school designed for children with special needs?
- Does ethnic identification is important for the students?
- How the school affects student’s expectations and their motivation for future education?
- How the school staff relates to Roma students?
Through our research, this four questions will be analyzed from different phases and topics. In the next part, we will examine past studies of school segregation in order to outline the main mechanisms that lead to school segregation.
According to Vermeulen and Slijper (2000), ethnic identity is understood as a social identity that is characterized by belief in a common culture, shared history, and common ancestors. Devic (2003) believes that ethnic identity is the primary basis for political solidarity recognized at the institutionalizations of all levels of government, and that groupings based on ethnic and cultural lines can create territorial concentrated interest groups. Thus, ethnic community is defined as a population whose members have a feeling of belonging, share common ancestors and a common cultural heritage or traditions, and is recognized by others as such.
Ljatif Demir (2002) claim language, religion, myths and music represent a significant future of the Roma culture, they have been subjected to constant change under the influence of the dominant culture in the countries that they have passed through or resided in for a longer period of time. Having said that, not just Roma adopted from the dominant culture, but the dominant cultures adopted as well partly from the Roma culture. In the case of the Roma, very often the socio-economic situation is commonly used in the construction of Roma identity. The stigmatization and racialization of the poverty as being part of the Roma identity still holds in the eyes of the majority. As Gans (1995) says, “the undeserving poor can be used to justify attacks on the welfare state” so they become accused of a conflict of politics and ideology. Since 2005 when Roma Decade was adopted and started to be implemented in each of the countries, the discourse of Roma begin changing. The affirmative measures that were aimed to help Roma on one hand improve the situation of Roma, but, on the other hand, after the economic crises in 2008 lead to frustration. Majority started blaming their Governments that “these people” meaning Roma are lazy people who do not want to work and just wants to use the social welfare that the states are providing. Therefore, this causes exclusion of Roma meaning that Roma communities are amongst the most prominent victims of both poverty and xenophobia in Europe.
Peter Vermeersch (2014) claim that with the attention given of the international community for minority questions in CEE, the exclusion and inclusion in domestic politics has become an important factor. Minorities are confronted with a new hierarchy of exclusion as ethnic boundaries become established in everyday understanding and action. In contextualizing Romani exclusion in the overall debate regarding European racism and nationalism, it is useful to refer to Balibar‘s argument that each nation ― through its institutions, constructs a fictive ethnicity that is different from the other ‘on the basis of visible, behavioral or audible characteristics’. National identity is increasingly displaced by fictive ethnicities and racism. Additional security measures and constitutional changes coordinated among European nations create “a new mode of discrimination between the national and the alien” (Balibar 2002). Elena Marushakova and Veselin Popov (2011) come to the conclusion that Roma are a great example of how the nation can exist in two dimensions ethno social and ethnocultural. The nation‘s exclusion of others ‘an individual internalization of the foreigner‘ creates internal and external borders.
The ethnic segregation of Roma in Hungary “sped up” since 1992 (Kezdi 2005). In 2005, the Hungarian government amended its Public Education Act with the aim to encourage integration. The meanwhile Hungarian government enacted requirements that schools integrate, as well as set benchmarks by which to measure integration (Kezdi 2009). According the Roma activists the program of integration was not implemented as it was designed. The first reason was that the educational administration is decentralized, meaning each segregated school among Hungary's 3,000 school districts must be dealt with separately. As a result, national education administrators, scholars, and Roma rights groups have been unable to determine quickly where all of the segregation exists. The second reason the Public Education Act was not successful was the fear of the white flight (Greenberg 2010).
One of the most serious problems that Roma children are facing is that a vast number of them are placed in special schools for children with disabilities. Based on the estimate numbers Roma children are over-represented in such institutions (Surdu 2002). Authorities from ministries of education very often diagnose that Roma children have “learning difficulties” and send them to ‘special’, remedial schools or practical schools (Taba 2012). Therefore, the majority of the Roma parents are not informed about the consequences that their children will face in the future (ERRC 2004). Such segregation dispossesses not only the quality of the education that Roma children receive but also influence their self-esteem and self-dignity (Szalai 2010). However, some parents send their children to “special” schools even though they were aware, the reason this is that the children there has free meals, clothing, and school supplies necessary (Ryder 2014).
The segregation of Roma children in the education later on affect the employment of those children and does not allow to be competent in the labor market. There is no doubt that discrimination of Roma exists in the labor market, which in large part can explain the employment gap between Roma and Non – Roma in Central and Eastern Europe. The study by Kertesi and Kezdi (2011) decompose the employment gap and conclude that discrimination has a significant impact on the explanation of unemployment level among Roma. Even though, these studies confirm that the discrimination in the labor market occurs, in many cases is difficult to determine and hence react in cases where it appears. Nevertheless, these attempts to establish a link between the discrimination and unemployment provide little information on the channels of discrimination in the labor market. However, discrimination of Roma in the labor market contributes to the exclusion and marginalization.
The research is based on two hypotheses. The first one, assume that most of the students who end up in the special school does not have any disability. Furthermore, they are mostly coming from Roma families living in a bad socio-economic situation. We assume that both genders are equally represented in such schools.
The second hypothesis is related to the effects of segregation. We expect that Roma students are faced with low expectations by the school stuff. Based on the prejudices and stereotypes regarding their ethnicity and socio-economic status of their parents, the school staff has lowered criteria for finishing in special schools. This results in the student’s lowered motivation for further studies and that their future prospects are very limited.
Our small study takes the form of qualitative research. Qualitative research is characterized by its aims, which relate to understanding some aspect of social life, and its methods which (in general) generate words, rather than numbers, as data for analysis (Bricky, 2007). We gather primary data from the individual interviews, group discussion, and observation in primary school for children with special needs. The interview differs from the everyday conversation because we were concerned to conduct them in the most rigorous way we can in order to ensure reliability and validity. We used in-depth interviews because this type of interview is used to explore in detail the respondent’s own perceptions and accounts. As well, this method is used on topics for which are little known and where it is important to gain an in-depth understanding from several features. We believe that some sensitive issues can work better with a group if all members of the group share same or similar experience. Also, it can tell more about the social structure of the community in which we will work, and it can provide more in-depth understanding of the context and of how opinions and knowledge are formed in social contexts. Nevertheless, to understand fully the complexities of many situations, direct participation in, and observation of, the phenomenon of interest may be the best research method (Bricky, 2007). We used observation because it is very useful in overcoming discrepancies between what people say and what they actually do. It might help to uncover the behavior of which the participants themselves may not be aware. It was also vital for us in suggesting who might be an appropriate person to conduct the interviews.
In our small research, we focus on the particular school for children with special needs, located in Budapest, Hungary. Due to the anonymity, the name of the school will remain unknown, and names of the people in our study will be replaced with acronyms. First we contacted the headmaster of the school asking for permission if we can visit the school by explaining the purpose of our research. From the headmaster, we received positive answer meaning that we can visit the school. We started with planning our research based on the Kvale’s (1996) seven steps: thematizing, designing, interviewing, transcribing, analyzing, verifying and reporting. Before we visited the school, we developed our research questions, and we listed topics that we will cover in the interviews with the staff member and students. The most important topics that we covered were the following: students experience in the educational institutions, ethnic identity, segregation, the relationships of the students, and their future prospects.
The first step of our research process was observing four classes of the 8th grade. As there was only one class of the 8th grade, we did not have the possibility to visit other classes. We choose to visit the eighth graders because they are the oldest, with the most school experience. In the first four classes, the head teacher held her classes in Hungarian language, mathematics, biology, and physical education. We observed four classes because we believe we can get more insights into the relations among the students alone and the relations with the head teacher. Furthermore, we observed the physical condition of the classroom where the children spend most of their time. The students were sitting in three rows. It can be concluded that the classroom was well-equipped with a computer, LCD projector, and it was clean. In the first class, we gave to the children consent forms that were signed by a majority of the parents. The signed consent was given back to their head teacher.
We conducted an interview with one Roma student and one non-Roma student, the head teacher, and the headmaster. The group discussion was composed by five students, four Roma students, and one non-Roma student. The individual interview consisted around thirty questions while the group discussion was narrowed down and consisted of seven question. Each of the interviews was between 50 to 70 minutes. The first interview was with the head teacher on the same day after the observation of the classes. The interview was held in a small room within the school. The head-teacher was a young, talkative woman who has started her career in the same school. We asked all respondents for their permission to record the interview after they introduced themselves.
In the second meeting that we have already arranged with the head teacher, we started with the group discussion. Our first plan was changed because the girls whom we wanted in the group discussion did not receive permission from their parents. However, we composed the group with four Roma boys and one non-Roma boy. We brought some snacks and drinks, and we arranged the tables in the classroom in a circle. We started with a small quiz about Macedonia in order to make them relaxed, the atmosphere during the whole interview was cozy. After the group discussion the non-Roma student, approached us asking if he can talk alone with us because he did not felt comfortable to talk a lot in the group discussion. We decided that he could talk with us after we discussed it with the head teacher. The head teacher helped us with finding a room where we can conduct the individual interviews. The first individual interview was conducted with the Roma boy, who did not participate in the group discussion and the second was with the non-Roma. Both of the interviews went well in a good atmosphere where the students talked openly about themselves. After the individual interview, we have arranged the interview with the headmaster who because of her duties was postponing several times the interview. Finally, we conducted the interview with her in her office, she was willing to answer all of our questions, but she seemed quite tense during the whole discussion. Due to participant anonymity, transcripts are unavailable. Please contact Romalitico for further details
We grouped our main findings under the following four main categories: enrollment, identification, socio-economic background and future prospects. At all parts, we are going to differentiate between the accounts of the school staff and the pupils. Even though initially we wanted to introduce the category of social networks as well, due to the fact that it seemed to play an important role in all the above-mentioned topics, we do not analyze its effect separately here.
The official process of enrollment in schools for children with special needs is that the kindergarten teachers advise the parents to take the child to an expert. These children are either having some kind of disability or behavioral problems. The expert tests their capabilities, and if it seems reasonable, he suggests them to go to special schools. However as we have learned from the interviews with the school staff (the headmaster and the head teacher), in the last decade it became more common that children with learning difficulties start their education in normal schools, due to the integration strategy applied by the government in 2006. Schools receive their financing partly after the amount of disabled children they enroll. Consequently the student body in special schools decreased. However there is a strong tendency for students participating in integrated education, to apply to this school when they cannot meet the requirements in those institutions.
"Since 2006, there is a new system, schools are partly financed by a number of students and a certain amount of places have to be filled in with disabled pupils, in order to get the money. And what can schools do? But please do not tell me that they can receive similar care in those institutions because I will not believe it.(…) In the integrated school children are lagging behind. Therefore many of them are enrolled in our school during the school year." (Headmaster)
"I think many who go to normal schools would belong here. They will be seated at the back of the classroom, they are lagging behind, accumulating huge disadvantages, and they get here int he 5th-6th grade, and they do not know how to write, read and count. We could give them a better basis. But there are student who only get here at the 8th grade" (Headteacher)
Based on the example of the 8th grade, we could see the following mechanism to unfold. There were no students in the class who has begun their education there in first grade (there was one student, who started at this school but at a different year). Most of the students came after 4th grade. Even though formally experts suggested them to enroll here, the main reasons for them to come here were either familiarity with the institution or behavioral problems. Three of the students mentioned that they came here because they have relatives learning here. While the rest were arguing that the reason for changing schools is that they were receiving very bad grades.
"When I was attending school at Kispest, there was a large class, there were almost 30 students. Well, I was bad. I did not attend classes; we were hanging out in the toilet. I had to sit at the back all the time. But I had good memories as well. I only had to leave because I was not so good, I was always the weird there." (Ba)
"I originally wanted to go to the Lakatos Menyhért, but then mom said that my brothers are here and that I should come here as well. And then she brought me to an expert, and that’s how I got here." (Ch)
There is a great fluctuation in the classes. Students who started their education in this class either dropped out for family reasons from education or they left the school because their family moved to the countryside. When students are changing schools, the direction is either from normal to special or from special to special. The head master’s explanation for this phenomenon was that disability is a given, it will not change in time. Therefore it is very rare that they let children go back to normal education. At the same interview, she acknowledged that the learning difficulties of most students in this school are not attributable to having disabilities but to their social disadvantages. This ‘double dialog’ signifies very well the ambivalent attitude of the school staff towards the students. There are also some children who had to repeat a year; however, class repetition is very rare in the school based on the school staff’s account.
"Well, there is no class repetition in this school, or it should have some very concrete reason. If someone is very much lagging behind, we suggest it, but mostly at lower grades. If they need more time to learn basic skills or for reasons like this. The other problem, and it is good that you are asking, as I have forgotten to tell, is missing from school. 250 hours is the maximum missing rate, and if someone is missing more than they have to repeat the class. There are two students in our class J and M. I asked J’s mother not to do it again...I do not think that a children aged 15 would get ill so often, but whatever...So what we do in most of the cases that they have to take an exam, and if the pass (they do most of the time) then they can continue." (Headteacher)
As most of the students attended normal schools as well, we asked them to compare their experiences with the two institutions. Most of them had very strict teachers and were subjected to physical assaults by their teachers in the former school. They emphasized that in this school teachers are more patient and are paying more attention to them.
They also addressed the question of the amount of learning. It was mentioned that in the normal school they had to learn more; that classes were larger and one student mentioned that prospects for further education were better as well.
Ch: Are you guys working for a company?
S: No, we go to college.
Ba: Is that hard?
S: Yes it is.
Ba: I guess you did not come from a school like this?
The headmaster explained that the gender distribution of the students in the school was rather imbalanced. There are three times as many boys than girls. Besides gender, the ethnic composition of the students is rather imbalanced as well. Around 70% of the pupils are Roma. It is in part the consequence of residential segregation; the school is located in a district that is largely populated by Roma people. However, as most of the students are not disabled, the very high amount of Roma students in the school signifies the revival of the old habit of normal schools. To get rid of the Roma pupils, they send them to special schools. When we asked the headmaster whether anyone either from inside or from outside of the school had accused the institution of segregating Roma pupils, she harshly rejected the idea. As it was mentioned in an earlier section, the school staff applies a ‘double dialog’ when describing their institution. They talk about how the school should function in theory, and they also address how it functions in reality, but they avoid to see the discrepancies between the two by not connecting them when describing the school. However, there are initiatives to address the particular situation. For several years, there is a Roma history class, where students can practice the Romani language, learn about the history of Roma and play traditional Roma music. Recently the new headmaster tries to involve the Roma parents more in school life. Therefore she organized a Roma cultural day when parents are cooking traditional Roma meals. However, turn up rates are not very high yet.
"We try to invite them and include them in the teaching process, but they are not very willing to join. They have this fear from school because most of their school-related experience is when teachers ask them to come to school because they want to discipline them about their children. It is very hard to change their attitude. That we do not want to discipline them, but to handle them as partners. They are not used to it." (Headmaster)
"There is this Roma folk history class (...)This class helps them to reevaluate this word, to teach them that the Roma culture is a culture just as the Hungarian one, it is a separate ‘race’, and people who belong to this group are completely normal, they have a culture. The fact that they were traveling all the time is a different question, it does not mean that you have to behave in a certain way...So they are not aware of it. There are very few families holding up to Roma traditions. Mourning is quite prevalent, but I am not sure whether they now why they do it." (Headteacher)
Except for one, all students were Roma in the 8th grade. Most of them only have one Roma parent. When we were inquiring about their Roma identity, they entered into a discussion with each other concerning the various Roma subgroups in Hungary and language use. It turned out that most of them know some words or can even speak Romanes, their grandparents, sometimes the parents as well speak the language, but they rarely use it.
Ba: No, Romungros are not only half Roma, but they do not speak Romanes, that's what makes them Romungro.
Ch: Yes, the Hungarian Roma, we do not speak the language.
Ba: For instance, I only use the language when I am with people who use it. Or if they invite me to a wedding and Vlach Roma are organizing these weddings.
D: Why are you not attending Roma history class and why do you not want to learn Romanes?
M: Because I do not want to. I know some, I know bits, but I do not like it that much. I would rather learn German or French.
In terms of ethnic identification, they all regard themselves as Roma. However neither of them were referring to special traditions of culture connected to their ethnic identity. The only topic that came up was differentiation and prejudice. Two of them said that in general there is no difference between Roma and non-Roma. However there are people on the outside who are very keen on differentiating the two. The good-Roma, bad-Roma paradigm appeared in the discussions as well. Two of them mentioned that there are Roma, who is responsible for these outside prejudices and that their actions make the situation of all Roma even worse.
S: If an alien would come and asks you what does it mean to be a Roma what would you say?
Ch: well, I do not know, I am not responsible for being a Roma
Jo: I do not have any comment to add to this.
Roma or Hungarian, it is the same for me, they are not different, the problem is that there are people who really tries to make a difference between them. That if they are Roma then they are bad and dirty, they speak dirty. But partly I understand them because there are few people on the streets, that are Roma as well and they are cursing all the time, spitting all over the place, the offend people. And then no one takes a look at the other side, that there are Roma, who lives well and do not behave like this. (Ba)
Concerning prejudice, we did not experience overtly prejudiced behavior or remarks by the school staff. The head teacher told us that it was hard for her as a young, non-Roma women to gain respect in the class. She told us that in the beginning, children were very offensive with her and did not admit her authority. She was even accused by the students of positively discriminating their non-Roma classmate. However, this topic did not come up in our interview. Only one of the students mentioned that he has experienced bad treatment in his former school because of his ethnicity.
"They recognized that I act differently with D. I have explained them many times that my behavior is different with him because he is an autist, and there are things that I should do differently with him. (...), but still they tell me often that I do this because they are Roma. D. do not tease them; he only does it when he is angry. Then he can say quite awful things. He has had enough of it I think. They behave very differently than D.. D. has values and norms.(...) But mostly this ethnic difference does not come up, the fact that they are Roma and D. and me, we are Hungarians, I am mostly tolerant with them. I like them the way they are; I told them many times, we settled with this. Sometimes they still say that it is just because I am Roma, but then I tell them it is not. I couldn’t be like that, I would not be working here if I was like that…" (Headteacher)
Most of the students are living in the close proximity of the school which is a poor, ghettoized neighborhood. Their families are disrupted, most of the parents are divorced and students rarely keep in touch with the parent they do not live with. Most of them have more than 3 siblings. Based on the head teacher’s account and the group discussion, the students are moving very often. They mainly stay in the same district but due to their difficult housing situation families often need to move out from their flats, or children move to the homes of their relatives (in general to their grandparent’s or their sibling’s place).
"I think his mother did not care too much for him, so this is why his brother took M. with him to Budapest. (...) B. lives under very normal conditions. His father is a security guard. It is very visible on their clothing and equipment. If I ask for a bus ticket, because we would like to travel somewhere, or who has some extra pocket money to buy things during the day. You can see from all these to whom is this problematic and to whom it’s not. But just by looking at them you can judge who is…I live under terrific conditions. She went to shoot at Erk, in Heves County. Then they moved here, and I do not know how many addresses they had since then. Also now they are living in a flat under quite unsettled circumstances, I have no idea how they got the apartment. She has many sisters. She is living with her father."
Their parents are either working in low paid jobs such as shop assistants or security guards or not working anymore due to their health conditions. The topic of the health conditions in the family appeared in our discussions several times. People aged 50 or more are generally considered to be very old and having grave health problems. There was one boy whose parents were in jail therefore he was staying at a childcare institution. The head teacher told us, that prison is an everyday experience for most of the children she is teaching in this school, as many of their relatives are imprisoned they often spend their free time in jail to visit their family.
S: And what do they do for a living?
M: Huu, I do not know, what they do now. My father just had a stroke; he is 52. I do not know what is going on with him now; I talked to him few weeks ago. He told me that he would like to see me. He has a paralyzed arm since then.
S: I see, it could be very hard to continue working this way...And your mom?
M: My mom is also sick, she has a hernia. She works, but I have no idea where exactly.
My dad used to work in the mine and later as a dustman. And he had horses that were the meaning of his life. He was continuously taking care of them; he was a blacksmith. His brothers are involved in it as well; they love to take care of their horses.
Expectations, future plans
All of the students are planning to continue their studies after finishing the 8th grade. As they can only apply to specific technical/vocational schools. It not only decrease a number of training options but restricts them to continue their education in secondary grammar school and to attain a state level exam. Another structural disadvantage they are facing stems from the lowering of the age limit of compulsory education to the age of 16. Based on our findings, the average age to finish this school is 15-16, being overage is a general phenomenon here as many children had to repeat at least one year in either their formal institution or here. Even though the school staff invested energy in helping the students with their applications, they seem to favor certain professions over others, which resulted in most of the students choosing the same training program. The headmaster also mentioned that dropout rates are very high on the secondary level, therefore from next year the school will participate in a follow-up program, which means that they will keep in touch with their former students.
"Their relation to the school is very ambivalent now. They would like to leave already, but at the same time they are very afraid of leaving this school. I was more supportive and interested in their future studies than their parents which are very telling I think. Most of the parents do not even have 8 grades, so there is nothing to talk about. But I hope it will work out well. Now that we have this TÁMOP project where we start to familiarize with the schools even in the 7th grade, and we will follow up their studies even after they are finished here. For one or two years. It means that if they tell us how the new school is we will administer this information. I hope this will be something they can grab onto." (Headteacher)
Most of the students will go to the same vocational school to a cook training. Many of them mentioned that they know people going to the Uj-Budai school, and that is why they choose it. None of them was especially interested in the cooking training. Most of them had very clear preferences. However they could not explain how come they could not go along with their preferred programs. There is no possibility in this school to attain a state level exam based on the head teacher’s account, however when we talked to students they were unconvinced and some of them even though they will have the possibility to do it.
Ba: I submitted two application forms, one to the Uj-Budai, and the other to school in the countryside. I would do the bricklayer profession in the latter. I only choose it because there was no other option, I did not find anything that would suit me.
S: What would suited you?
Ba: For example to become a musician, or a physical education teacher.
S: And were you considering to go to a sports training?
Ba: Well we will see, I don’t know it yet, someday I may go.
Jo: (...) if I finish the cooking training, then I would like to learn informatics. And I may attain a state level exam. I’ll try all I can.
S: Is it possible to attain a state- level exam at Uj-Budai?
Jo: At informatics yes, but it is very hard
S: And how could you get in? Why didn’t you apply there in the first place?
Jo: Because I cannot sit in front of the computer for hours. I will start go around and get very impatient after two hours. But I wanted to become information, because I can handle computers well. It interests me more than the cooking training.
Their plans for after finishing secondary education was very vague. Some of them were considering to attain another training program that would suit them better. They emphasized very much the importance to finish secondary education because they will not be able to find work without it, however attaining a state level exam did not seem to be very important for them. Interestingly almost all of them were considering to learn English or German and to go abroad to work. Except for one student, all of them have relatives living abroad, or relatives who have already been abroad and offered their help to them. Young male relatives with a family and a stable work were most often cited as role models.
S: And would you like to continue as a chief later on?
Ch: Of course. I will learn English and I will go abroad.
Ch: To Germany or to France.
S: Do you have relatives somewhere, who could help you if you will go abroad?
Ch: Not really. But I will do it alone, I do not need help.
Jo (...) There is a cook in the family, my godfather, and he told me that he would take me to England and everywhere if I become a cook.
S: Has he been to England?
Jo: Yes he did, once.
S: But you will try to get a state level exam as well?
Jo: I would try it all, if it does not work out I will just leave. But I have to finish the professional training that is for sure.
Based on our results both of our hypotheses gained verification partly. Concerning our first hypothesis, we found that ⅞ of students enrolled in the 8th grade were coming from a Romani origin. Only 25% of the students had disabilities in effect; the rest were enrolled in the school because their low achievement or behavioral problems. Most of the student were coming from very poor families. An interesting finding of our research, however, is the imbalanced effect on this kind of segregation on Roma girls. Around 70% of the pupils in the school as well as in the 8th grade were boys. Within the confines of this research, we couldn’t find out the reasons for this imbalanced gender distribution, but it would be an interesting topic for future inquiries.
Our second hypothesis was also partly reified by our results. Even though the expectations held by the school stuff are lower than in normal schools, and it is perceived by the students as well, the staff seems to care about these children, the atmosphere in the school is rather positive. However, the lowered expectations did result in the loss of motivation of students to enter secondary education according their personal interests. Their main aim is to get a profession in basically anything and enter the labour market as soon as possible. The fact that they consider to learn foreign languages and migrate to western countries might signify a positive trend, that despite their predominantly negative experiences, they believe in that they can attain some control over their life.
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