The Role of Media in Special Education Policy in Hungary

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Public coverage of the Last Desk Program can be considered as limited (as compared to parallel government programs); but the contrary could also be true: the issue (of the Roma unduly diagnosed as mentally retarded) had got quite a big publicity.

Of course, this is a methodological question: to decide what is lot and what is little. Mohácsi‘s debut was perceived by most stakeholders as a forceful (public) attack on "the profession". Statistical figures describing the over representation of Roma students in segregated schools for mentally disabled children were regularly cited by the Ministerial Commissioner. Her declarations were considered first a symbolic assault on the Placement authorities and the MPPCs. Later, when the focus of attention became the design of a new protocol, a kind of "cease-fire" was achieved, and as a sign of cooperation and reconcilement, the promotion of inclusive schooling was limited to background institutions and linked to the National Development Plan (EU-financed calls). Educatio Public Company became the official voice of the PA while the media turned their attention away as soon as conflicts diminished.

SEN professionals (special education experts, psychologists, neurologists) have appeared in the public sphere regularly during the last decade. Their statements are usually aired as "expert opinions". However, they do not comment on policy issues in adirect manner, but rather on "true" and "false" signs of learning difficulties or on the urgent need for adequate treatment of the "real" cases. What is asserted in these public declarations, tribunes and press discussions concerns "the great tradition of Hungarian remedial expertise", and the "international uncertainties" in determining the expected natural occurrence of different disabilities (whether dyslexia should be 5, 10 or 15 percent in a population, etc.). New labels are introduced and adequate therapies for diagnosed problems are also advertised in this way.

A new generation of (school) psychologists appeared recently and seems to use the media as a terrain where they can counterbalance the disciplinary tradition of applied psychology by proposing more "evidence-based" approaches. Here, evidence is related to the everyday practice of the educational institutions in general, moreover, for critical psychosocial and even sociological analyses of educational and therapeutic settings (Szügyi, 2009; Szél, 2009).

The integration of Roma children was and is the much debated issue; much more than the integration/inclusion of SEN students which remained practically unknown to a wider public despite the fact that the legal obligation of SEN-inclusion should theoretically concern each school. These issues were mostly debated on internet forums and blogs held by parents of SEN children.

The test cases (public interest litigations) [próbaperek] initiated by the Chance for Children Foundation (CFCF) received a large media attention were probably among the most visible parts of the PA. Note that they were indeed part of the PA, B. Magyar, the Ministry and the NDA supported them in one way or another.

The Educational Round Table received some attention in the media, especially when the Prime Minister attended the kick-off conference, but the public debate which the new form of disseminating knowledge –incl. a massive use of Internet– was supposed to entail, more or less failed, most of all because of changing political context, especially as far as the written outcome, the Green Book is concerned.

The media like "scandals". In 2004, a report and and impact study of the EU-financed Phare Program stated that the Program was inefficient, a leading Internet-site announced that "billions were drained away to finance exclusion and school segregation. The Governement answered and defended the Program on the one hand, attacked the previous Governement (which signed the grant) on the other hand. Those scandals can alternatively depart into two opposite directions, on a completely contingent basis: in favour or against inclusion (or any other policy issue).

The Internet as a medium for exchange also plays a growing role. Professionals (psychologists, teachers, etc.) and parents discuss the SEN-issue, mostly out of the perspective of "here we experience the reality (e.g. the difficulties/impossibility of inclusion), up there, in the Ministry, they don’t".

ERÖSS Gábor & KENDE Anna (2009), All against misdiagnosis - Sociologists, neurologists, economists, psychologists and special educators for inclusion, KNOWandPOL report, 80-84.

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  • SZÜGYI Jerne (2009), Labirintuspróba [A labyrinth test], Beszélő 14/3,
  • SZÉL Dávid (2009), Az önmegvalósításon innen [On this side of self-realization], Élet és Irodalom, LIII, 19.

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