The Public Education Act provides for compulsory education (kindergarten or school) to asylum seeking 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. Consequently, asylum-seeking children above the age of 16 may not be offered the possibility to attend school, until they receive a protection status. In practice, this depends on the availability of places in schools accepting migrant children and the willingness of guardians and the Children’s Home staff to ensure the speedy enrolment of children.
Refugee children are often not enrolled in the normal classes with Hungarian pupils but placed in special preparatory classes. Integration with the Hungarian children therefore remains limited (see below the account of Menedék Association). 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 Association, 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. 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 that Hungarian students spend in school. The HHC is also aware of positive examples from 2019 and 2020 where schools accepted asylum-seeking children. However, regarding the administration of official documents, there had been problems. These were all sorted out with the help of the HHC’s legal officer by explaining the legal background of such children to the headmaster of that particular school. Menedék Association reported about administrative barriers due to the lack of certificates providing for the attendance of primary school (8 grades) in the country of origin. 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 elementary and secondary school in Budapest. Children in the Károlyi István Children’s Home find it hard to enrol in formal education for a number of reasons, such as the delays in providing them with documents (such as an ID card) and the lack of available capacity in the few schools, which accept unaccompanied minors. Children therefore need the support of NGOs so that they can successfully fulfil the obligations imposed by the school. In the last years the Menedék Association in cooperation with the legal guardians, provided them the necessary help in this regard. The Covid-19 pandemic exposed the older unaccompanied children in Fót with new challenges regarding education. Home schooling proved to be quite burdensome as there were not enough computers and web cameras available for them.
Upon the closure of the transit zones in May 2020, children who were placed with their families to Vámosszabadi got enrolled in a local school in Győr, the education was not integrated though. In 2020 the education was the following: schoolteacher visits the camp once a week, children go to the local school in Győr twice a week and on the remaining days the social worker of the NDGAP assists them with teaching. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic though, there were certain periods when children were not allowed to leave the centre, thus the schoolteacher visited them in the reception centre. In Balassagyarmat, there has been no arrangement made with the local schools. There is a school operating at the premises of the community shelter, where resident children can be enrolled. According to the Menedék Association a 5-year-old boy was enrolled by the local kindergarten in September 2019 thanks to the good cooperation between the reception facility and the preschool.
Education opportunities and vocational training for adults is only offered once they have a protection status under the same conditions as Hungarian citizens. In practice, asylum seekers can sometimes attend Hungarian language classes offered by NGOs for free of charge. Over the course of 2019 and 2020, Menedék Association with the help of volunteers provided Hungarian language classes to the residents in Vámosszabadi, as well as in Győr.
In Balassagyarmat there was no Hungarian language class provided in 2019 and 2020 to asylum seekers. According to the Menedék Association in 2019 there was an applicant commuting from the facility to Budapest in order to attend a language class that was organised by the NGO and a language school.
Before September 2017, education as such was practically non-existent in the transit zones. Since then until its closure, education in the Tompa transit zone was organised by the Szeged Educational District, while in the Röszke transit zone it was organised by the Kiskőrös Educational District (unaccompanied minors were accommodated in the latter). Based on personal meetings with unaccompanied children who had participated in these educational programs HHC concluded that this could hardly be perceived as effective education. Unaccompanied minors found it useful though because of the sense of activity it provided instead of the boredom experienced during the arbitrary detention. Classes were not tailored or age-appropriate and teachers often lacked the necessary linguistic skills needed to teach effectively. Based on the observation of teaching materials handed out to unaccompanied minors who had been in the transit zone it could be seen that the classes mostly focused on enabling minors to say a few basic things in Hungarian.
On 10 February 2020, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child published its concluding observations on Hungary, where it recommended that all asylum-seeking children should have access to meaningful education.
 Section 45(3) Act CXC of 2011 on public education.
 CRC, Concluding observations, 10 February 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3op1QK0.