Lacking Knowledge in the case of Special Education Policy in Hungary

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In an era of post-bureaucratic regulation, transnationalisation and evidence-based policies, the appeal for change in any policy domain is always an appeal for research and expertise (both national and international). Knowledge and cognitive authority legitimize public policies. ―Evidence‖ is often lacking, though.

We examined the way in which the conflicting knowledges in the case of a cross-sectorial (health and education) and cross-disciplinary (special education, psychology, sociology, medicine, etc.) issue, such as special educational needs, lead to and are based on a specific knowledge-regime, which, in turn, leads to the paradoxical phenomena of "non-knowledge" (Beck, 1996; Weingart, 2003; Wehling, 2006) and of "specified ignorance" (Merton, 1987). "(A)s the history of thought, both great and small, attests, specified ignorance is often a first step toward supplanting that ignorance with knowledge" (Merton, 1968, 47180). We introduce and illustrate shortly the substitutes for evidence and for knowledge, such as (1) "incarnated knowledge" of charismatic decision makers representing and symbolising a target population, (2) practical knowledge of politicians and bureaucrats, and (3) local knowledge (which is sustained anyway by decentralisation and the growing importance of street level bureaucracy), among others. A pre-condition for the substitution of lacking data by alternative forms of knowledge is that this lack becomes evident and troubling.

0. The precondition: Decision-makers realize that fundamental data in a given era, say SEN-numbers, are missing/ are invalid: “Substantial research has been conducted regarding Roma children and their access to education in Hungary. However, each study has been conducted according to different criteria and along different methodologies, making comparison of data difficult in some cases. Official data are among the least reliable of these sources, and many believe that sociological studies may be more reliable data sources than State-sponsored censuses. [...] One of the most severe criticisms raised by the former Ministerial Commissioner […] relates to the lack of reliable, relevant and cross-referable educational data. The root causes of these concerns are the following: [a] Not all data relating to education are collected or monitored by the Ministry of Education and Culture; [b] Relevant data are provided by the schools themselves and may not be consistent; [c] Data-gathering systems are not compatible across Ministries, [d] let alone with international data collection systems" (Farkas & al 2007, 9 & 19).

1. Incarnated knowledge as a substitute for lacking formalised, official knowledges: "In order to get hold of that symbolic power Viktória Mohácsi was needed. She had that kind of aura that made the breakthrough possible. [...] She stirred up everything, she initiated the test cases, she went to court onto a very high level, to the superior court. With [her sister] E. Mohácsi and A. Újlaki they established a foundation, and she contested vehemently. I say she could not have done otherwise. She exactly knew what to do; she felt it from deep inside and it was genuinely done" (Á. Torda). "I came into the picture because when B. Magyar made the appeal he took racial [!] and equal opportunity reasons into consideration. He wanted a person who was a female, who was young and good-looking and could communicate in the media" (V. Mohácsi).

2. Practical knowledge as a substitute for impact studies: "I was approached by a (small town) to make the Equal Chances Plan of their town. They asked me to visit them, look around and assist in making the plan. Then a colleague and I went and had a look at their statistics. I asked about their experiences, their difficulties and about the trainings the teachers took part in. We interviewed the opinion leader of the local minority group, as well. Before we visited the Roma settlement (slum) neighbourhoods, we talked to people about their experiences ...then we went to the municipality, there we talked to the town officers. Then we visited the schools..." (Decision-maker, Ministry of Education).

3. Local knowledge/sociological knowledge mobilised by the experts as a substitute-knowledge, in order to inform decision-maker who lack data... "It was a decision that it is the notaries‘ task to make the register [...] it is his/her job to organise that the people concerned should declare if they are disadvantaged, i.e. about their level of education. But nothing happens, in most places the notaries did nothing. In the case studies ‘S‘ micro-region was precisely mentioned where there are plenty of small villages, and then: 200 inhabitants, number of disadvantaged: no data. In such a place where everybody knows each other, the work could be done in 5 minutes. It all depends on the will if there is or is not. They know very well: until valid data are missing it can be manipulated. It can be manipulated by all sort of things, maybe for extra benefit or if it is among the conditions to get a [EU-funded HRD OP] funding" (G. Havas).

ERÖSS Gábor & KENDE Anna (2009), All against misdiagnosis - Sociologists, neurologists, economists, psychologists and special educators for inclusion, KNOWandPOL report, 88-90.

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