Paradigm shift in Special Education Policy in Hungary

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The paradigm shift can be interpreted as the introduction of novel policy concerns (de-segregation and inclusion) inspired by novel experts, instead of state bureaucratic regulation modes, along with the emergence of conflicting disciplinary knowledges.

The hitherto exclusive remedial-medical-psychological model has been supplemented or even replaced by sociological insights, and "auxiliary sciences" (psychology, remedial pedagogy/special education as well as educational economy) evolving under sociology‘s patronage.

There was a competition between the paradigm mostly present in special education (inclusive pedagogies) and the sociological paradigm, with the objective of de-segregation. The period during and after the public action (2002-2009) can be characterized by competing disciplinary traditions influencing policy making, and by the convergence of these traditions at the same time. We have coined this simultaneous and strong presence of competing disciplinary traditions within the decision making process as the era of the "two-wing-window of opportunities".

From 2003 onwards, when the Public Education Law [1993] was modified, and the category of "disabled students" was replaced by "students with special educational needs", mainstream policy presumptions about the SEN population have moved away from the hitherto predominant psycho-medical and remedial conceptualisation of disabilities (and from the general strategy of the central state to simply satisfy the diverse claims articulated by the representatives of groups differentiated from one another by types of disability) to the sociological problematization of the system of special education as such. For the Ministry‘s main advisors, the special education system became the territory of segregation, the metaphor of low quality education and a dead-end in the educational career for children with SEN. The new focus on segregating mechanisms and the will of integration have been articulated by four competing explanations, each of them put forward distinct claims and visions about the SEN-field:

(0) Integration/inclusion of students with disabilities and learning difficulties into mainstream schools in order to strengthen their later integration into society, to reduce prejudice against people living with disabilities in general, and to avoid forms of schooling leading unemployment (special education, prior to the public action);

(1) De-segregation and de-stigmatization of Roma/ SDS students (who were overrepresented among pupils with "mild mental disabilities") to offer equal educational opportunities (sociologists, prior to the public action);

(2) Inclusive education, by treating students individually, it strives to reshape schools in a way that they become capable of coping with all sorts of difficulties and differences (mainstream education and special education);

(3) Early intervention and prevention, in the form of early diagnosis and early childhood compensatory intervention, to identify risk factors, priority areas for intervention and to prepare disadvantaged children for school as early as possible (building especially on widespread screening, individual and family intervention programs, the development of a strengthened network of health visitors, paediatricians, nurseries, kindergartens, childcare institutions) (sociology and psychology, esp. especially developmental and neuropsychology).

Common –sociologically inspired– presumptions, showing a paradigm shift, are the followings: a) Diagnostic categories are no longer considered natural ones; b) the social consequences of categorising ("labelling") students with special needs is acknowledged; c) social (contextual) causes are responsible for a child becoming disabled or having learning difficulties (predecessors of this idea, such as "multi-factorial", i.e. socio-cultural familiar causes of disabilities have been rejected because the argument seems too essentialist); (d) social (contextual) factors are preconditions of successful therapy.

We can also identify a shift with respect to the mode of governing the SEN field around 2004. From the late 1980s until 2002 a rather passive attitude characterised SEN policies on the national level, minimizing legal regulation, and delegating responsibilities to local governments (screening, therapy and organization of the SEN-education). It was a period of decentralisation and local self-regulation, without a real post-bureaucratic shift, the central Government remaining passive. National level financial support, though ever increasing, was provided through municipal administrations, while entitlements for special services were widening due to lobbying on behalf of specific populations (e.g. children with autism, learning difficulties etc.).

After 2002, the socialist-liberal government, although it did not alter the liberal-bureaucratic mode of governing, characterising the entire education sector in Hungary, tightened legal measures over diagnostics and selection processes of SEN students. It was reinforcing both bureaucratic and post-bureaucratic regulation, by becoming more active. For example, categories were reshaped and the number of entitlements reduced, and bureaucratic control was reinforced over service provision. At the same time, the National Development plans, financed by the EU (concentrating on program financing, rather than on earmarked subsidies), tried cope with a highly decentralised system, inducing a shift towards post-bureaucratic regulation. Knowledge-diffusion became a major and explicit element of the new setting, e.g. "Educating the educators" programs, development programs, good practices diffusion (books, NNIE, etc.), auditing measures.

ERÖSS Gábor & KENDE Anna (2009), All against misdiagnosis - Sociologists, neurologists, economists, psychologists and special educators for inclusion, KNOWandPOL report, 73-75.


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