The paradigm shift: the emergence of the integrated education public action in Hungary

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This excerpt investigates how the policy paradigm shift took place in the conceptualization and targeting of measures under discussion within the Hungarian education policy space.

The prior discussion of paradigm shift rested primarily on Peter Hall’s (1991) definition of policy paradigms and his concepts were deployed to explain policy change. We identified the cognitive currents present in the public and scientific discourses during the nineties and examined how a shift took place in the dominant organizing rationale in education policy making. However, it is not accurate to refer to the elections of 2002 as to what Hall defined as ‘third order’ change, i.e. anomalies produced by events that don’t mesh with the earlier paradigm’s explanations. At this point Kingdon’s (1995) conceptualization of ‘policy windows’, featuring converging streams was utilized to describe the chain of events during this period more precisely.

It was a political event that opened the window of opportunity for a coalition of actors to push forward their ideas: the general elections of 2002. Prior to this moment, in the nineties, competing ideational paradigms coexisted. We have argued that while a shift did in fact take place within the dominant Essentialist-Culturalist policy paradigm of the nineties, it was only in the early 2000’s that a complete paradigm shift could be detected, i.e. a shift from the Essentialist to a sociological paradigm. The latter idea stream gradually evolved in the non-governmental sector and in the intellectual circles of the non-governing liberal party. Interestingly, party members’ support for the idea lost strength by the time the window of opportunity opened. Later a small policy community (including the minister of education) who had gained government posts after the elections pushed the idea forward within the state to political realization. When the policy window opened, a rhetorical device assembling references to international expectations (EU), global comparative surveys (PISA) and scientific arguments (domestic sociological literature) strengthened and substantiated a crisis discourse about education that featured the discard of the policy unacceptable. References to external authorities reinforced the position of the new policy discourse.

The formation of the government in 2002 marks the public appearance of the PA and completed the policy paradigm shift. We analyzed this event as a focal point that sheds light on how the previous dominant policy program was replaced by a sociological paradigm within the state. The Essentialist paradigm located the issue of the education of the Gypsy pupils within the national minorities’ agenda and argued that educational disadvantage should be interpreted and tackled within the framework of education provisions stemming from collective minority rights. Novel experts introduced novel policy concerns (desegregation, integration and later inclusion). The discursive shift embraced the symbolic condemnation of the epistemological presuppositions and the prominent conceptualizing figures of the previous regime. The old concept was displaced, and the discourse of social integration and ability development was established. Policy analysts studying policy change tend to portray policy ideas as changing rapidly, especially when a ‘window of opportunity’ for new policies opens up (Schmidt, 2010). Following Vivien Schmidt’s line of thought, we argue that while the ‘window of opportunity’ marks the public appearance of the emerging policy paradigm, political transformations cannot be fully explained by the radical moment of policy shift. On the contrary, new ideas create opportunities for change and hence open ‘windows’. Ideas that evolved in the scientific domain and in NGO school experiments through the nineties were assembled in the new public action, creating new opportunity structures. When the window opened the proponents entered the state and attempted to selectively “scale up” earlier “alternative” NGO initiatives. According to Schmidt (2010), “…windows open only when events are ideationally constructed as opportunities for change”. The paradigm shift was prepared by the long construction of scientific and professional narratives, arguing that political action was necessary. In this discourse, EU accession was framed by the new coalition of 2002 and especially the new education minister as a political event that required an adjustment to European norms (i.e. desegregation and the modernization of pedagogic practices).

In a narrow sense, the paradigm shift was completed by the institutionalization of the new policy domain within the state (i.e. respective departments were formed in the ministry and in governmental agencies, legislative regulations and financial provisions were ratified following the new rationale) and solidified through the gradual implementation of the new regulations. It is during the institutionalization and implementation phase that we can trace the process through which social learning takes place within the state as they forge new public policies. In line with the objectives of the new policy paradigm and as a reaction to the availability of new policy tools diffused through EU projects, old instruments were redesigned and new policy instruments were constructed. And as a result, we have identified the inception of a selective and “unintended learning” (Radaelli, 2010) of post-bureaucratic policy culture. Instead of bureaucratic, content oriented regulation modes (earmarked subsidies, curricular policies), post-bureaucratic regulatory instruments were increasingly applied (i.e. incentive systems, programme financing, procedure-oriented regulatory frames and auditing measures). While political measures previously targeted the Roma (among others) as part of an ethnic minority, the new PA explicitly broke away from this tradition and targeted the socially disadvantaged pupils with special focus on Roma pupils. The planning negotiations, the domestic design of the EU projects also reflect the ideological-conceptual boundary work that accompanied the formation of the public action.

In a retrospective narrative, those interviewees who contributed proactively to the development of the new regulatory approach often explicitly stated that paradigmatic change took place. Those bureaucrats and decision-makers who had already been working prior in the public administration did not report such a radical change, for them the change in the scope of their responsibilities and the allocation of state funds posed a challenging new situation that they had to cope with.

After the paradigm shift, the competition of disciplinary traditions continued within the state. A continuous implicit debate and competition for resources took place in the government where defining problems and choosing solutions were at stake. The possible ways of tackling different school populations and the corresponding solutions proposed by scientific disciplines are hardly reconcilable. Namely (1) the sociological solution of spatial de-segregation and integration of Roma and SDS students to ensure equal opportunities, (2) the pedago-psychogical focus on individual abilities and the creation of an inclusive education system ensuring that every child fulfills his/her potential, (3) the psychological-special-pedagogical solution of developing screening and diagnosis procedures and early childhood services in order to monitor risk factors and reduce the ratio of students unprepared for school, and finally (4) the priority of educational economics to educate flexible workforce that adapts to changing labour-market demands. Although these policy paradigms emphasized divergent core problems and located different sites of intervention, by 2008, the narrative of economics (4) emerged as grand narrative seemingly capable to unite these scientific discourses, and assembled with the early intervention discourse (3+4) gets increasingly influential in shaping policy design.

NEUMANN Eszter with BERÉNIY Eszter & BAJOMI Iván (2010), The Politics of Seating Plans, KNOWandPOL report, 78-80.

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  • HALL P. A. (1993), Policy Paradigms, Social Learning, and the State: The Case of Economic Policymaking in Britain, Comparative Politics, 25, 3, 275-296.
  • KINGDON J. W. (1995), Agendas, Alternatives and Public Policies, 2nd ed., New York: HarperCollins, 253.
  • SCHMIDT V. (2010), Speaking of Change: Why discourse is key to the dynamics of policy transformation, Keynote Paper prepared for presentation for the 5th International Conference in Interpretive Policy Analysis, Grenoble (23-25 June 2010).
  • RADAELLI C. M. & SCHREFLER L. (2010), Reflecting on Knowledge and Policy, Exeter: Department of Politics, University of Exeter, UK, Manuscript: comparative Report prepared for the KnowandPol project.

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