Focusing on integration

It was for the second time already that the Faculty of Education for Children and Special Educational Needs of the University of Debrecen organized an international conference titled Challenge and/or Opportunity: The Integration of Roma People in Europe in order to analyze the social situation of Gypsy communities. The scholarly-scientific meeting featured presentations in as many as ten different sections.

In fact, there were more than fifty researchers participating in the conference, including a number of foreign experts, who presented their latest research findings at this academic event held in Hajdúböszörmény.

“The integration of gypsies in our region represents a social issue that has been topical for several centuries. The diversity and complexity of the topic is also reflected by the program schedule of this year's conference, hosted jointly by the Faculty of Education for Children and Special Educational Needs and its Balázs Lippai Roma College for Advanced Studies, in which researchers from the perspectives of a wide variety of disciplines shed light on this process. An important goal described in the mission statement of the University of Debrecen is to find answers to social challenges. Thus, the present conference is an important milestone in promoting Roma integration,” said Elek Bartha, Vice-Rector for Educational Affairs at the University of Debrecen, at the opening ceremony of the conference.

Attila Sztojka, Government Commissioner for Roma Relations, highlighted that the greatest challenge of our time is to overcome prejudices.

“In this paradigm-shifting process, it is crucial that specific policy measures focus on incentives rather than on aid-based support that triggers passivity. This is a long-term investment, in which we see the Roma society as a resource, whose members help the country to become prosperous,” said Attila Sztojka.

In connection with the presentation of the programs supporting Roma integration, the Government Commissioner for Roma Relations emphasized that Biztos Kezdet Gyerekházak [Safe Start Children's Homes], the institutions called Tanodák [Schools], the scholarship program system named Útravaló [verbatim: Provisions for the Journey] and the Roma colleges for advanced study are normally considered to be the strongest pillars of the efforts to assist the process of achieving middle-class status for the Gypsy population in Hungary.

“This conference fits in precisely with the goals of the University of Debrecen, as it contributes to the social integration of disadvantaged and/or Roma communities and their young people. At our Faculty, there are two majors available in this field: the bachelor's degree in Romology and the kindergarten teacher specialization for ethnic Roma communities. In addition, courses conveying basic Romological knowledge have been integrated into all of the BA training programs. However, in addition to education, it is imperative to conduct research in order to increase the body of academic knowledge. The role of the professionals graduating from here in promoting integration is of paramount importance through their work at the various local levels,” said Erzsébet Gortka-Rákó, Dean of the Faculty of Education for Children and Special Educational Needs of the University of Debrecen.

The overall conclusion of the event was that research on Romological subjects and approaches is ongoing at the institution, which represent partly basic research and applied pedagogical examinations, the results of which are directly integrated into the program content, while they also serve to strengthen the social sensitization and professional preparation of teacher candidates.

Attila Kiss, mayor of the city of Hajdúböszörmény, added that effective integration could only be achieved if the helpers came from the affected community. Therefore, early development, education, guidance and active support are extremely crucial. In fact, Hajdúböszörmény, in cooperation with the University of Debrecen, has developed a settlement development program that indeed helps to improve the living conditions of the disadvantaged.

"Integration is not the same as assimilation," said Gábor Biczó, head of the Department of Social Sciences at the Faculty of Education for Children and Special Educational Needs. As he stated, ethnic communities could live side by side in a way that makes it possible for them to retain their own culture. The initiatives of the Faculty and the college for advanced study, as well as the program contents, do support the Gypsy population in their efforts to become valuable members of society while retaining their identity instead of becoming assimilated.

All in all, there were more than 50 presentations given at the international conference. The foreign experts presented their research findings in two working groups that included participants from Germany, Croatia, Greece and Nigeria, among others.

The thematic areas covered at the event included talent management, sports, the relationship between health and integration, and early childhood integration. Survival strategies, early school leaving, innovative development opportunities for children, and the contradictions and chances of institutional education for Roma children were also discussed.

Press Center - ÉE