The Public Education Act provides for compulsory education (kindergarten or school) to asylum seeker and refugee children under the age of 16 staying or residing in Hungary. Children have access to kindergarten and school education under the same conditions as Hungarian children. Schooling is only compulsory until the age of 16, according to a recent legislative change.1 As a consequence, asylum-seeking children above the age of 16 are not offered the possibility to attend school, until they receive a protection status. They have to stay in the reception centre during the entire day without any education-related opportunities.
Children at the age of 6 are enrolled in local schools of towns where the reception centres are located, which host a special preparatory language learning class in order for children to later join regular classes. Difficulties have been reported relating to the availability of places in public schools.
Refugee children are often not enrolled in the normal classes with Hungarian pupils but placed in special preparatory classes. Integration with the Hungarian children remains thus limited. They can move from these special classes once their level of Hungarian is sufficient. However, there are only a few institutions which accept such children and are able to provide appropriate programmes according to their specific needs, education level and language knowledge. According to the experience of the Menedék Hungarian Association for Migrants, many local schools are reluctant to receive foreign children as (a) they lack the necessary capacity and expertise to provide additional tutoring to asylum-seeking children; and (b) Hungarian families would voice their adversarial feelings towards the reception of asylum-seeking children.2 This is a clear sign of intolerance of the Hungarian society in general. In some other cases, the local school only accepts asylum seeking children in segregated classes but without a meaningful pedagogical programme and only for 2 hours a day, which is significantly less than the 5-7 hours per day Hungarian students spend in school.
Moreover, if the asylum seeking child has special needs, they rarely have access to special education because of the language barriers.
Unaccompanied children in Fót attend the Than Karoly Secondary School or the Bródy Imre Secondary School in Budapest. Children attending the Bródy Imre School reported that they only have access to school 2 days a week, although they would like and need to learn more. In addition, several children were not issued the necessary documentation for schooling, some complained that their humanitarian residence permit had not been issued yet and as a consequence they could not be enrolled in the school. Some children also reported that they feel discriminated against by some teachers both in Than Károly, and Bródy Imre School. There have been reports that bus drivers may not stop in front of the children’s home in Fót when foreign youngsters go to or return from school.3
Children in Fót have reported not receiving any books and other necessary material for school such as paper pencils, booklets. Due to legislation in force, schools have to indicate the amount of materials they would need prior to the beginning of the school year. This proves impossible in case of refugee children due to the high fluctuation and internal moving within the country. Hence, currently there is no possibility to purchase materials for the students.
In Kiskunhalas the access to mainstream education is available, the school materials are provided. In practice though, families are leaving the camp sooner than children could have had the opportunity to be enrolled in education.
Full access to mainstream education is hindered in Vámosszabadi, where 2 – one school age and one kindergarten age – children did not have access to primary education, thus could not attend school on grounds that their asylum application was rejected and they are awaiting deportation in 2015. In 2016 the general experience of HHC was the same as in Kiskunhalas so that children left the camp before they could have been enrolled.
In Balassagyarmat only one girl could start attending a local school in April 2014. For the rest of the school aged children staying there, no arrangement has yet been made with the local schools. There is a school operating at the premises of the community shelter, where resident children can be enrolled.
Education opportunities and vocational training for adults is only offered once they have a protection status. In practice asylum seekers can sometimes attend Hungarian language classes.