Roma and Early Childhood Education in Hungary

By Rachel Cooper

Roma comprise the largest minority in Hungary and their presence in the territories dates back to around the 1300s. Throughout their history in what is present-day Hungary, they have faced great deals of discrimination in aspects of everyday life, including in health, employment, and education. Since 1993, the Hungarian government has made early childhood education a priority development area in its national education system. Since joining the European Union, Hungary has implemented several policies to increase the access of Roma to early childhood education, recognizing their historical marginalization within the education system. Inclusion in early childhood education is important for Roma children as they often face barriers in higher levels of education due to their typically low socio-economic status. Attempting to bridge these gaps as early as possible can have important positive implications for the educational attainment of Roma children in Hungary.

Pre-school was made compulsory in Hungary in 2011 and has been free since 1993 for children aged 3-6. The government provides support for poor families to encourage them to enroll their children. Before the start of the school year, economically disadvantaged families “are given double the monthly social allowance they are entitled to, so that they can afford to cover the educational materials for their children for the new school year”.  Schools are also entitled to government funding for disadvantaged children, to cover educational materials and meals. 88% of children in Hungary are enrolled in a pre-school; for the Roma population, this percentage drops to 76. It should be noted that Hungary’s overall enrollment in early childhood education and Roma enrollment rates in early childhood education are far higher than its neighbors – Bulgaria’s rate is 45%, followed by Romania at 37%, the Czech Republic at 28%, and Slovakia at 24%; however this should not excuse the issue of access to educational services that are still apparent for Hungarian Roma.

Hungary’s higher rate of Roma enrollment does not signify that levels of equity are high, especially since 21% of Roma children attend pre-schools that are nearly completely Roma, and most non-Roma children attend schools that have zero Roma enrolled. Additionally many Roma are unable to attend pre-school due to a dearth of facilities. This is especially true in rural areas, where most Roma households live – in the 1993 Hungarian census the rural Roma population was measured at 60.5% of the total Hungarian Roma population. According to the Roma Early Childhood Inclusion Report of 2012, 29% of local governments have no kindergartens available, and these are predominantly in areas with Roma majorities. Although there are government provisions to provide subsidies to Roma families to encourage attendance, there have been reports of Roma not receiving this support due to local clerks discouraging Roma from applying because of local financial constraints. Furthermore, Roma families may not even know about the financial provisions to which they are entitled due to a lack of information channels.

On a broader level, Hungary has also been criticized for the measures it uses for the development of its early childhood education programs. Hungary’s National Roma Integration Strategy suggests the “development of early talent fostering, early childhood education and care” should be measured by PISA results, ignoring that PISA measures educational achievement indicators of 15-year-olds, and is irrelevant to measures that should be applied to children of pre-school age.

Interestingly, Roma girls are more likely to be enrolled in ECE than boys, with an 8% difference. This pattern is inconsistent with Hungary’s neighbors – the only other country to have a higher enrollment of Roma girls in pre-school is Romania, with 39% of girls and 36% of boys enrolled.

Hungary has been seen as a leader with regard to its Roma policies, and was one of the first countries in Europe to implement a system of protecting minority rights. In terms of ECE, Hungary has more experience and a longer history of integrating Roma children. The Roma Education Fund, a seminal organization focused on improving the status of Roma in Europe, has criticized Hungary not for its lack of inclusion efforts, but instead for measures that are too “overwhelming” for enactment at a local level. Essentially, initiatives have overloaded the system and have not provided enough space for proper evaluation and assessment of their effectiveness. Two of Hungary’s programs which have been deemed successful are: National Education Integration Network (Hungarian acronym of OOIH) and Step by Step schools.

Reports have been mixed regarding the quality of early childhood education in Hungary. The OECD finds that it has a “well-developed child-centered methodology” with content “focused on the acquisition of social and learning skills and fostering an interest in the learning process, rather than on direct teaching of literacy and numeracy”. The Roma Education Fund, Open Society Initiative, and others, have countered this positive overview, finding “the education system in general as being dominant and rigid”.

It is clear that Hungary still has a ways to go in terms of full integration of Roma in early childhood education, though it has made important strides. Government measures and policies exist to improve the situation; it is crucial that local governments and school districts are held accountable to all of their constituents and to recognize the equal rights of Roma to education mandated by law.

Rachel Cooper is currently a Program Manager at the SUNY Levin Institute.

Moving Beyond Outcomes – Thinking About the Broader Impact of Peace Education in Conflict Zones


Karen Ross

I was inspired, years ago, when I first encountered the Reflecting on Peace Practices (RPP) project at CDA Collaborative Learning Projects , and was particularly struck by a diagram I encountered in one of the project’s publications: Confronting War: Critical Lessons for Peace Practitioners.  The diagram (below) encapsulates what, for me, is the essence of assessing the ‘impact’ of peace building interventions: a need to link changes among individual participants to larger groups and to change at the socio-political level.


I found this diagram (and the publication as a whole) inspirational because it resonated with questions I had been trying to answer for a while: what difference do grassroots programs bringing together youth in conflict contexts make? How do we know whether these programs have an impact – on individual participants, on other individuals, and on conflict-affected contexts as a whole?

In my years as a scholar and practitioner of dialogue and peace education, I have read a lot of research attempting to answer these questions.  This scholarship has taught me a lot, but I also am frustrated by the focus most of it places on examining impact in a relatively narrow manner: as cognitive or attitudinal change measured over a few months.  This is not to say that such research is not valuable – in fact, most studies are methodologically rigorous and provide useful information about the potential of peace education programs to change (or not) the perceptions of individuals who participate in them. In other words, this research is important in helping us understand the short-term cognitive, attitudinal, and even to some degree behavior change facilitated by participation in peace education endeavors.  Still, what is missing is an understanding of how these changes fit into the bigger picture – that is, whether and how organizations implementing peace education achieve their goals of contributing to a more just and peaceful society.

This is where the diagram from Confronting War comes in.  Indeed, much of the field of conflict resolution, the Reflecting on Peace Practice project included, has taken a broader turn in defining and assessing impact that I think can also benefit research focused more specifically on peace education.  For instance, conflict resolution scholars have suggested indicators of broader change such as: increased demands for peace by groups of individuals; adoption of ideas from conflict resolution interventions into official negotiations; and continued, specific actions by participants in conflict resolution programs that focus on responding to the needs and concerns of the other side.

Of course, we can’t expect programs targeting school-aged children to show a direct link to changes in government negotiating positions. On the other hand, we can examine and learn from the long-term activities of peace education participants. A recent project of mine, for instance, focused on involvement of Jewish and Palestinian citizens in activities promoting Jewish-Palestinian partnership, as assessed years and decades after their participation in one of two Israeli peace education programs. I found that approximately half of these individuals (65% from one of the two programs, and about 40% from the other) are actively involved with other dialogue initiatives, peace-building organizations, or activities that focus on changing Israeli society to be more equitable for all of its citizens. Even after all these years, many pointed to certain aspects of their participation in the peace education programs as inspiring their later actions.  Some spoke about acquiring political knowledge that inspired them to think critically about Israeli society and work to change it. Others mentioned being inspired by seeing equality between Jews and Palestinians modeled among program staff – seeing this gave them hope that such equality might someday be possible in Israeli society, and motivated them to work towards that reality.  One woman told me that her peace education participation “changed my life,” and is the primary reason why she has the career she does today.

It is clear that for many alumni of at least these two peace education programs, participating in joint Jewish-Palestinian endeavors as youths played a major role in their decisions to undertake additional activities that emphasize the pursuit of peace and justice.  And while it’s not possible to generalize to all peace education programs, this finding is important because it suggests that peace education initiatives can not only set the stage for long-term change among their participants, but that the nature of that change builds into other peace-building efforts in societies suffering from conflict – suggesting that these programs have a broader impact than what scholarship to date has noted.

There is much more that can be said about this.  For now, let me end by reiterating that I believe we need to think much more broadly about what constitutes impact and how it might be assessed. Only by doing so can we know the true value of peace education endeavors.

Karen Ross recently completed her PhD in Inquiry Methodology and International & Comparative Education at Indiana University, where she continues to teach as a research methodology instructor.



Critical Participatory Action Research as a Potential Intervention and Approach in Conflict Transformation Processes


Kathryn Moore

Why do organizations solicit participation from “local stakeholders” when the people exist there already, creating movements and advocating for themselves?

This was the question of one development practitioner who witnessed people’s power and their movements for social change, as they were the “owners of the issue” after a natural disaster in her home country (anonymous, personal communication, July 10, 2013).  The practitioner determined that her emergency response, even within her home country, was not humble enough due to the inherent power she held as an “insider” in the country but still an “outsider” to those affected in the fragile context.  This example highlights how  “participation,” a buzzword in the international development and peacebuilding fields, becomes problematic when it reproduces inequalities within groups and reinforces power hierarchies between “outsiders” and “insiders” by showcasing external interests as local concerns and needs (Cooke & Kothari, 2001).

In another instance, a peace and development practitioner noted how women and children died as a result of not being able to swim during a natural disaster.  Women and their communities requested swimming instruction specifically for women; however, international practitioners maintained the true problem was lack of women’s human rights access. After much debate, women received training from local professional female swimmers (personal communication, July 18, 2013). This process led the practitioner to question whether international practitioners, donors, communities and organizations, working together, are capable of realizing true participation when not genuinely considering how communities define what it means to “participate” and define their own issues (personal communication, July 18, 2013).

How can initiatives in development and peacebuilding contexts, with the aim of conflict transformation, be truly inclusive, participatory, and more than short-term development projects (as cited in Lederach & Jenner, 2002)? How can those most impacted in said contexts be the “owners of the issue(s)” as well as actively engaged in developing and realizing solutions over time?  I posit that as an intervention, Critical Participatory Action Research (CPAR) allows minority groups to drive their own conflict transformation processes in fragile contexts as well as exemplify “true” participation of local stakeholders in development initiatives. CPAR, as defined by colleagues from the Public Science Project (PSP), is “a framework for creating knowledge that is rooted in the belief that the most impacted by the research should take the lead in framing the questions, design, methods, analysis and determining what products and actions might be the most useful in affecting change” (Torre, 2009).

CPAR assumes that all people and institutions are embedded in complex social, cultural, and political systems historically defined by power and privilege and that social research is most valid when using multiple methods (Torre, 2009).  The latent conflict context of Fiji is an example of one place where CPAR has potential to simultaneously “remember bodies, knowledge, histories of resistance, and opposition that has been excluded” while serving as a conflict transformation intervention (Torre, 2009).   Youth have typically been marginalized in peace and development processes with Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) offering the most genuine outlet for youth participation in peacebuilding and conflict transformation (Gavidi & Moore, 2012). If CPAR were employed as a framework, youth, a traditionally “forgotten” or excluded body, may potentially participate in the entire research process from the inception of framing the questions to determining products and actions, thus allowing for conflict transformation of the individual youth within CPAR and society at large.  Regarding methodology, if Fijian youth choose to do focus groups as one method in a mixed-methods approach, they could involve more non-formal traditional ceremonies such as the kava ceremony, a ceremony involving drinking the traditional relaxing drink that used to be reserved for indigenous chiefs. This would allow for potential understanding of the “other,” thus embarking on a process of truth and reconciliation between multi-generational and inter-ethnic groups, while simultaneously systematically researching youth as peacebuilders in the process.

CPAR maintains that participation is along a continuum, contextualized and that there is not one “right” way to determine what participation may look like in a given setting or institution (Dr. Maria Elena Torre, personal communication, June 20, 2013).  Clara Hagens, a Regional Technical Advisor for Catholic Relief Service’s (CRS) Monitoring, Evaluation, Learning and Accountability (MEAL) in Asia, noted the continuum of participation within the organization, which has peacebuilding as one of its thematic areas. Hagens asserted that examples of significantly participatory initiatives are when communities have designed the project in partnership with the organization’s staff, designed and determined indicators to measure success in the project’s process and outcome, led data collection efforts, and analyzed/determined what actions to take with evaluation findings. An example of participation included a project where CRS and partner institutions determined a desired change and the community defined the “nuts and bolts of the behavior change and what success would look like to them” (Clara Hagens, personal communication, July 15, 2013).  Hagens provided a critical perspective on the participation continuum and stated that while there is a commitment to participation across the organization, how it is managed varies greatly related to time and resources in various locations.  The question remains as to how, in conflict transformation processes that are very context specific, continuums of participation may be considered when the organizations, themselves have specific norms.

Another example of the continuum of participation comes from a USAID development practitioner working in a post-conflict setting, wherein local university students and government ministries’ officials partook in the data collection process over a six-week period  (USAID practitioner, personal communication, July 17, 2013).  The local practitioners were able to witness issues in development “on the ground” that allowed them to become “insider” advocates for issues at hand instead of relying solely on “outsiders’” research and perspectives on development issues (USAID practitioner, personal communication, July 17, 2013).  The local practitioners requested USAID’s support to build local data collection and analysis skills, among other skills, in order for locals to be the principle leaders in their own research processes over time (USAID practitioner, personal communication, July 17, 2013).  Conflict transformation processes include the idea of “continuums of participation” when outsiders are facilitating peace processes; how much of the participation should be “insiders” vs. “outsiders” is a question that remains in both CPAR and conflict transformation processes alike.

CPAR holds that participation might not happen instantaneously and believes relationships are constructed over time (Torre, 2009).  Education for Peace (EFP), an NGO working in post-conflict Bosnia-Herzegovina, provides an example of participation evolving over time in conflict transformation processes.  Naghmeh Sobhani, working with EFP for over twelve years, noted that, in  “true” participatory processes, “the ‘circle of participation’ is expanded over time” (Naghmeh Sobhani, personal communication, July 12, 2013).   More people subsequently want to be included and put their “own piece into the group effort.” Sobhani also noted the importance of relationship construction over when working with multiple groups (i.e. ethnic groups, groups with different levels of authority, etc.). Multiple groups needed to first have their own affinity groups in which to set the climate and agenda prior to working in shared spaces. Instead of EFP staff being the “process-owners,” former members of the affinity groups explained to newer members of the plenary the mechanisms for how the group exercises participation that had been co-created and practiced by the plenary over time. Affinity groups later forming a plenary over time might be a timely process based on the traditional age hierarchy of society, ethnic violence, and structural inequalities; however, as with EFP’s example, relationship construction with evolving groups over time could lead to participatory efforts’ long-term ownership and sustainability.

The examples highlighted suggest CPAR is both an approach and an intervention in conflict transformation processes.  However, significant considerations and dilemmas ensue.    Some deliberations are the ethical considerations around determining issues to be researched and identifying participants to be involved in CPAR, how to ensure that the continuum of participation is reflected upon across institutions with multiple international locations, the readiness of organizations and the donor community to accept longer-term “true” participatory processes vs. quick-impact projects, and how to realize the diversity of groups most impacted inclusion in CPAR efforts, especially when some important groups are resistant to join research efforts.  Finally, how may groups prove with their research, in fragile contexts where some fractures might still exist, that conflict transformation is taking place within ongoing, timely processes utilizing CPAR?

Kathryn Moore is an International Development Fellow 2013-2014, Catholic Relief Services Laos.


Cooke, B. & Kothari, U. (Eds.) (2001).  Participation: The new tyranny? London: Zed Books.

Gavidi, K. & Moore, K. (2012).  “Invented traditions:  youth as peacebuilders in collaboration with civil society organizations in Fiji.” (Unpublished M.A. thesis).  Teachers College, Columbia University, New York.  Retrieved from

Lederach, P. & Jenner, J. (Eds.) (2002).  A handbook of international peacebuilding:  into the eye of the storm.  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass.

Torre, M. E. (2009).  Principles of critical participatory action research. Retrieved from

The Relationship between Human Rights and Human Rights Education

Watch the video here:


PD Dr. Peter G. Kirchschlaeger is the Co-Director of the Centre of Human Rights Education (ZMRB) of the University of Teacher Education Central Switzerland Lucerne.

Additional Resources Authored by PD Dr. Kirchschlaeger :

Certificate of Advanced Studies CAS Human Rights Education:

Perspectives of Research on Human Rights Education: tibbitts_kirchschlaeger_research_hre_jhre_1_2010

Philosophy-based and Law-based Human Rights Education: kirchschlaeger_kirchschlaeger_hre_jhre_1_2009

Universality of Human Rights:

Peter G. Kirchschlaeger, Wie können Menschenrechte begründet werden? Ein für säkulare und religiöse Menschenrechtskonzeptionen anschlussfähiger Ansatz, LIT Verlag, Muenster (Germany) 2013

Educating for Peace and Human Rights


Monisha Bajaj talks about her research on the rise of Human Rights Education in India and its transformative impact through the work of the Institute of Human Rights Education.

Monisha Bajaj is an Associate Professor of Education in the Department of International and Transcultural studies at Teachers College, Columbia University.