Labour Market Integration of Roma Youth in Hungary - Dilemmas Faced in the Programmes Aiming at the Improvement of Education

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
TW2.1.01 (Tower Two)
Ildiko Husz, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Centre for Social Sciences, Budapest, Hungary
The employment rate in Hungary is 58.4 %, which is one of the lowest in the European Union. Young people are especially lagged behind: in 2013 the employment level of the population aged 15-24 was as low as 19.8 %, compared to the average of 32.2 % in the EU-28 countries. Young people out of employment are mostly inactive (usually still studying), with a significant part, 27.2 % of them being jobless.

The issue of low employment level dates back to the early 1990’s, the time of post-transitional economic recession. As industrial companies closed down or were reorganised to become competitive and agriculture fell into crisis, large numbers of people who lacked up-to-date skills were cast on to the streets. A lack of an appropriate educational background and skills remains the main reason for the long-term unemployment which has persisted ever since.

The labor market position of Romas has suffered a greater-than-average deterioration. At present only 26.5% of the Roma are employed, compared to 60.4% of the non-Roma. The opportunity gap is due largely to the low level of education of Roma and to a lesser extent to discrimination against Roma workers.

Before the political transition, the Roma showed an improving educational integration, resulting in a growing number of persons who completed primary or even vocational schools. However, the rate of Roma children studying in programmes leading to a secondary school-leaving certificates still remained fairly low.

The post-communist government tried to alleviate youth employment problems by reforming the educational system. The leaving age for compulsory education has been raised from 16 to 18 years, and the capacity of secondary schools providing leaving certificate and institutions of higher education has been increased. Despite these measures temporarily attenuating youth employment problems, the educational expansion both in its structure and quality failed to meet the economical needs, thus leading to the current oversupply of graduates and shortage of high-skilled workers.

Non-Roma students flowing to the secondary schools with leaving certificate freed up capacities at the vocational schools that ended up accommodating Roma students keeping at school due to the high leaving age of compulsory education. However, as the modernization of vocational education didn’t take place in the meantime, even students who didn’t drop out of school and managed to finish their studies often couldn’t find job. As a consequence of such selection of school types, vocational schools have become reservations for unmotivated students with low level of knowledge. All in all, despite the longer duration of schooling, market opportunities of Roma pupils have hardly improved.

In my proposed presentation I would like to share the dilemmas about what means can be applied to provide Roma children with competitive skills within the frame of the educational system. Since 2011, our research team has been participating in the programme against child poverty, carrying out surveys and field studies whose results and experiences serve as the empirical basis for the presentation.

Currently, it is the National Social Inclusion Strategy approved in 2011 that serves as the framework for the actions taken in relation to the labour market integration, and to the social inclusion of the Roma. Focusing on the socially disadvantaged groups, this strategy has identified a number of intervention areas where in the past years several programmes have been launched. One of these target areas concerns the elevation of qualification level, while the others include planned interventions directly contributing the growth of employment. Young jobless people as a disadvantaged target group are not specifically highlighted in the strategy, being mentioned only in one of the actions.

In my presentation, I will focus particularly on those actions that are able to elevate the qualification level of Roma children. Regarding these actions, three questions arise: for whom, when and how the educational disadvantages are to be compensated.

The first question refers to whether it is the people living in poor social conditions or the Roma who should be included in the group targeted by the planned actions. Given the long-lasting debate among Hungarian scientists on whether the disadvantaged situation of the Roma has social or ethno-cultural roots, it is no wonder that the government itself is unable to form a coherent standpoint. At last the strategic documents have identified the target group as “disadvantaged people” or “living in extreme poverty”, while some of the actions actually aim at the Roma’s cultural inclusion.

Another question to be reconsidered was that until what age children would ideally be kept in the educational system. At last, from the school year 2012-2013 the leaving age of compulsory education was lowered back to the former 16 years. The main reason behind this measure much criticised in professional circles was that vocational schools wanted to get rid of pupils compulsorily attending school without motivation in learning. This measure already has its negative consequences visible in the growing number of early school leavers; the drop-out issue affects Roma children mainly. The entrance age of compulsory education will be also reduced: from September 2015 nursery school will be compulsory from the age of 3 instead of the current 5 years. The purpose of this change is the inclusion of disadvantaged children, in the practice primarily meaning Roma children. The priority of the development of early childhood services has also been confirmed by the fact that the project for establishing “Sure Start” children’s houses has become the flagship of the cabinet responsible for social inclusion.

The question of “how” arises most strikingly in relation to the educational inclusion of young people living in extreme poverty and often in segregation. The dilemma here is whether to improve the conditions of the segregated environment or abolish segregation on the whole. Since attempts for the latter have often failed in the past, inclusion policy now seems to shift to the direction of the first option instead. However, there is no guarantee that the improved quality of the segregated schools will not prove to be a blind alley on the way to the compensation of educational disadvantages of the Roma.