International Influence on the Special Education Policy in Hungary

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The most popular international instrument of the Educational field, PISA, did not affect the SEN-field (directly): "In the PISA survey the sample‘s margin of error is 5 % and since the rate of SEN children is usually below 5 %, in most of the countries these children were not included in the analysis. It is especially true for countries where these children go to segregated schools or special classes".

But there is a series of SEN-specific international institutions and instruments. The European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education (EADSNE) had a growing influence (after Hungary gained full membership). It concentrates on international best practice development, qualitative assessment, and evaluation of national programs for SEN children. The (EADSNE) is funded with support from the European Commission. It reproduces (almost) up-to-date statistics of SEN in Hungary on its homepage. In opposition to the more quantitative approach of the OECD, the EADSNE disseminates best practices and qualitative assessments, above all.

Academic actors can have the easiest access to international knowledge. For example, the objective of overcoming the segregated practices of remedial educationinitially came from the international pressure on special pedagogy independent of the sociological critique: international trends underlined the importance to seek alternatives to segregation of SEN students. Sociologists also made references to international good practices on SEN inclusion.

It is the prevention paradigm which is the most paradoxical one with respect to international knowledge, as a key actor, who played an important role all throughout the Educational Roundtable, and criticized the course of action from the economist‘s perspective committed to equal opportunities, made primarily US analogies and not European ones.

International instruments are gaining prominence in the field. The most significant one is the OECD categorisation of special needs, which is widely cited by politicians and officers. For researchers, OECD classification and its statistical figures are inadequate for international comparison and for describing the Hungarian specificities. Politicians and bureaucrats accept the tool as authoritative and use it in a way to support their position.

Another international tool, ICF ("International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health" developed by the WHO in 2001 as a parallel diagnostic taxonomy to ICD-10, the current International Classification of Diseases) is on the threshold of possibly gaining significance. Already, there is a theoretical consensus around the necessity of needs based assessment (Lányiné 2007).

Good practices from Northern countries (Scandinavia and especially the PISA "winner" Finland) and Great-Britain are often referred to. However these references are often superficial, not taking into account the differences in the social make-up of the country, the differences in the educational and the political traditions. The fact is that these references are rarely translated into practical and applicable knowledge, and remain idyllic models rather than applicable good practices. Actually the knowledge-regime which was developed in Hungary makes it difficult to adopt good practices or to even learn from them (although the Educational Roundtable did try).

Travelling ideas, good practices and special education scholars: "Where did the Hungarian special educators get scholarships from in the 90s? First, from the United States. [...] 5 to 10 special educators went to the US yearly, to work, get experience and see the American model. Long before the 90s because of the black Americans and the minorities the integration issue provoked big debates. Many people came back ’infected‘ with the ideas. Then many people went to Germany, England etc. [...] there has been strong connections with Austria and Germany, and since Mr. Bárczi the German influence was traditionally strong. These people brought back the knowledge and taught it".

Note that the concept of the SEMC, a very important institutional innovation, also partially based on some local (i.e. national) tradition was "imported" from Germany by a leading special education scholar (see: above). Special education scholars perceived V. Csépe‘s analysis in the Green Book as a critique addressed to their profession on this crucial issue: Á. Lányiné Engelmayer draws the history of the relations between special education and "the West" with the explicit aim to show evidence that links have always been tight (Lányiné 2007). There is not one single "best practice". "Best practices" are contingent upon policy preferences. The international SEN-policies are different, inclusion (Norway, Portugal, Italy, Sweden...), segregation (Belgium, Switzerland) and various intermediary solutions (Germany, England, Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands...) exist throughout Europe (Csányi, 2007a, quoted by Fischer 2009).

ERÖSS Gábor & KENDE Anna (2009), All against misdiagnosis - Sociologists, neurologists, economists, psychologists and special educators for inclusion, KNOWandPOL report, 85-90.

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  • LÁNYINÉ Engelmayer Ágnes (2007), Comment on Valéria Csépe‘s "Az SNI sajátos helyzete Magyarországon" [The special situation of SEN in Hungary],
  • FISCHER Gabriella (2009), Az integrációval kapcsolatos attitűdök [Attitudes regarding integration], MA thesis, ms. Bárczi Special Education Faculty, ELTE University, Budapest.

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