Travelling Policies beyond the National Borders: The Case of the Hungarian Integrated Education Public Action

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This paper concentrates on the interaction of global and foreign ideas and domestic policies. More specifically, this paper discusses the activity of supranational, transnational and non-governmental actors involved in developing the discourse of equity and desegregation after 2010.

A) Supranational actors: These are international organizations concerned with equity issues, or more specifically with the educational conditions of the Roma, who have requested country reports from domestic authors. The United Nations (MacDougall, 2006; Farkas et al., 2008, Unicef, 2010), the World Bank (Németh et al., 2003) and the OECD required country reports (Radó, 2007) on equal opportunities in education and national best practices toward assuring equity. While these reports pass through the traditional consulting channels, and reach ministerial policy-makers, they do not exert direct influence on domestic policies. Domestic policy analysts instead prefer to prepare these reports in an attempt to spread current global concepts and corresponding policy approaches. Of these concepts the idea of the learning outcomes based equity approach has been highlighted as one of the most important, and posited as an alternative to “traditional” approaches to equal opportunities. Our interviewees reported that the World Bank policy (Németh et al., 2003) triggered some behind-the-scene expert debates as sections of the document offered policy alternatives (namely the instrument of vouchers as used in the Netherlands) that did not match with the ideas of the SDS policy community.

Our report (Bajomi et al., 2009b: 53-57) extensively discussed the great impact of the OECD’s PISA survey on both domestic educational discourses regarding equity and on corresponding public initiatives. As an indirect criticism of the domestic policy approach conceptualized by the SDS community, and expressed in the OECD country report Equity in Education (Radó, 2007) published by the Ministry of Education, the authors argue that since the nineties the international policy literature takes a position on constructing policies with the objective of equity instead of equality. The proponents of the policy paradigm emerging out of the outcomes based equity approach instead of ensuring equal access to all commit themselves for a meritocratic education system where all pupils are offered the greatest choice and opportunities to fulfill their potentials. The debate between the proponents of the two paradigms were not displayed explicitly, yet it shaped the planning of EU funded proposals. While the SDS community’s proposals where primarily aimed to ensure equality in access, since 2007, mainstream programmes focus on enhancing inclusive schools that provide the best opportunities to student populations with different social and ethnic backgrounds and diverse abilities.

B) Transnational, non-governmental actors: These include transnational NGOs which have played a substantial role in problematising educational segregation in the CEE countries. On the one hand, the Soros Foundation supported school innovation from the mid-1990s (among them, a Roma education programme) that spread procedural knowledge about teaching methodologies, planning projects and building networks, and empowering SDS families with the overarching aim of making schools more flexible to adapt to the needs of low status children. In another capacity-building project the Soros Foundation transferred international policy knowledge, trained knowledge brokers, and supported the setting up of a network of educational policy think tanks in CEE countries. The knowledge-transfer philosophy performed by the Soros Foundation was continued by the Roma Education Fund (REF), an organization co-funded by the Soros Foundation and the World Bank in 2003 at the regional conference where the Roma Decade programme was launched. The REF’s key priority is to shape domestic policy by transferring knowledge, offering best-practices, and lobbying for certain policy objectives (such as the enhancement of the education of the Roma, the expansion of pre-school services, extra-curricular and adult training programmes). The REF experiments with pilot programmes in order to try out novel policy instruments and also generates and publishes annual reports and country-specific policy reports (Kertesi and Kézdi; 2006, Kézdi and Surányi, 2009) in the region. It is their primary concern that the reports should be formatted in a policy-friendly way (e.g. articulating knowledge in the genre of policy notes, cost-benefit analyses, impact assessments and policy briefs) and in this way spread the culture of accountability and evidence-based decision making.

The colleagues of Soros’s Open Society Institute (OSI) acted as international knowledge brokers trading on the idea of desegregation. For example, a Bulgarian busing desegregation pilot project, supported by the OSI, was inspirational in this respect for Hungarian policy makers who intern attempted to implement the project on a system-wide scale while ensuring state funds (normative financing) instead of non-profit funding and thereby transforming it into a governmental policy. Since the end of the nineties, the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Center generates country reports (ERRC, 2005; ERRC, 2007) from Central-Eastern European social scientists, and also launched public litigation cases focusing on the educational segregation of the Roma. The ERRC staff closely cooperated with the SDS community, in fact the 1st Roma Commissioner in office between 2002 and 2004 previously worked for ERRC. The organization was also active in promoting Hungary’s efforts to incorporate best practices in combating education segregation in international arenas.

c) Good practices: The US desegregation policy was primarily utilized as a reference points for domestic actors, and within the public discourse the racial discrimination of the Roma are commonly compared to that of African-Americans.

This was primarily a symbolic resource: if Martin Luther King wouldn’t have given his speech in ‘63, than we couldn’t have done this in 2002. This is the main thing” (SDS2).

Interestingly, while the fact that the idea stream of desegregation had been a dominant policy for previous decades in the United States, and is a recurring reference in public debates and expert discussions, it is also clear that European and global knowledge streams have only lately undergone this “equity shift.” Through the policy story direct references to European models, or to the adoption of specific instruments, did not take place. In the accounts of the early phase of the policy, the Netherlands’ voucher model was mentioned and also the implementation of the French ZEP model was on the agenda in the late 1990’s, yet the concepts were never implemented. In the public discourse, international comparative evidence is evoked to legitimate the public action. In terms of PISA, Finland is mentioned the most often, yet since 2007 Poland’s ameliorating results are increasingly cited presumably for the country’s geographic proximity and similarities in political history (Bajomi et al., 2009: 66-67). Yet, the scientific community is typically not influenced by international knowledge streams as they primarily consider themselves as part of a national scientific community, and their approach and problem definition is primarily determined by local scientific traditions. In the scientific studies international scientific evidence related to the measurement of the quality of education are primarily referenced in educational economic studies. The political community does not consider international practices as effective sources of learning. Nevertheless, international NGOs continue to attempt to transfer knowledge about evidence-based policy instruments, and facilitate learning by formatting international and domestic knowledge in a form that is policy-compatible.

NEUMANN Eszter with BERÉNIY Eszter & BAJOMI Iván (2010), The Politics of Seating Plans, KNOWandPOL report, 98-100.

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