“Missing Knowledge” in the case of the Hungarian Integrated Education Public Action

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How do policy makers tackle situations when they realize that their knowledge is insufficient for planning policies? And, what exactly are these gaps in knowledge? This section looks at the making of the Hungarian integrated education policy and attempts to answer these questions.

1. Missing factual knowledge: “We don’t know that…”

A) Policy makers constantly struggle with the lack of data on the everyday practices of schools, and the validity of the reported statistics. For this reason policy makers have consistently tried to improve the data-collection technologies. Toward this end policy instruments were designed as a way to achieve reliable data, particularly on the number and distribution of target populations such as socially disadvantaged students. Because statistical survey data can only partially fulfill these demands they have often been complemented by anecdotal impressions and unproven estimations.

B) Due to the “ Protection of Personal Data and Disclosure of Data of Public Interest Act of 1992” personal data may not be collected and processed about the ethnic background of citizens. Therefore, estimates from research surveys have been made available, but the lack of official data impedes the creation of any accurate statistical portrait of the education of the entire Roma population. This approach limits educators and policy makers in the development and targeting of policies, as well as limits the ability to fully document and address discrimination. Yet, for the interviewees responding to questions of discrimination and Socially Disadvantaged Students (SDS) it is evident that the category of Severely Socially Disadvantaged Pupils was introduced as a statistical proxy for deprived Roma students.

2. Missing procedural knowledge: “We don’t know how…”

A) The discovery and identification of missing knowledge was a key aspect of a paradigm shift. Narrating the reasons for establishing new policy scope policy makers recalled their inability to link scientific evidence and political planning. Appropriate knowledge about the proper instrumentation of far reaching policy goals was not available in the country. Additionally, knowledgeable actors (field experts, trainers, and integrated education experts) who could diffuse and mediate the new policy knowledge at the local level had to be trained on a grand scale.

B) In the narratives of policy analysts the ignorance of policy makers regarding ways to plan systemic development became a recurring factor with which to contend. These authors argued that the strategic coordination of the Hungarian education system was weak and policy makers possess insufficient knowledge about governance: we are “wealthy and perplexed” (Radó, 2007). According to these critics the sector is knowledge deficient: lacking public policy analyses, policy oriented research, as well as professional public policy and development program evaluations, it cannot be properly identified what works within the national context (Radó, 2007: 16).

To conclude, we have to highlight the constructive character of the narratives on missing knowledge. Experts coming from the science fields regularly contribute to the narratives of missing knowledge as a way to produce awareness for further research. While policy makers are conscious about the nature of this need, they also realize that “up-to-date, objective” scientific evidence has the potential to legitimate their claims. At the same time, policy makers believe that “we more or less already know” where the problems are even without research. This mutual dependence generates the constant demand and production of new surveys in the quest for always more sophisticated data.

NEUMANN Eszter with BERÉNIY Eszter & BAJOMI Iván (2010), The Politics of Seating Plans, KNOWandPOL report, 104-106.

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  • RADÓ P. (2007), A szakmai elszámoltathatóság biztosítása a magyar közoktatásban [Professional Accountability in the Hungarian Public Education], Új Pedagógiai Szemle, 2007/12, 3-40.

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