Transylvanian Legal Aid at UN: Minority education deficient in Romania

Representatives of the Imre Mikó Minority Rights Legal Aid Service from Transylvania were present at the yearly minority forum of the UN, held on November 28-29 in Genf. This year, the main topics were related to education, language and minority rights. During their contribution, the members of the organization emphasized: Education in the mother tongue of minorities is guaranteed in Romania, but its quality oftentimes lags behind the national level. As an example, they mentioned the results achieved by Hungarian language students in this year’s competency tests; these were – again – below the national average due to the low scores obtained by Hungarians in the Romanian language and literature exams. This proves that the teaching methodology of the official language of the state is not adequate for those who live as a minority and have a different mother tongue.

The revised curriculum elaborated for minority students, respecting the fact that Romanian is not their mother tongue, has only yet been introduced in elementary and middle school classes – only up to the 7th grade. Furthermore, students lack most of the textbooks, among them books for Romanian language and literature, and teachers are also not really satisfied with the revised curriculum: Many of them believe that there should be a much stronger emphasis on the development of communication skills.

Workers from the Imre Mikó legal aid service drew the UN forum’s attention to the fact that the issue of minority education is not resolved simply by the mere fact that a state allows students belonging to ethnic minorities to study in their native tongue. The state has to provide the conditions necessary for quality education, or else Hungarian students will be seriously disadvantaged compared to their Romanian colleagues as soon as they start school. This drawback will then intensify during the following years, impairing the right for equal opportunities.

“We seize every opportunity to report rights infringements and discrimination suffered by Hungarians in Romania. The minority forum of the UN is an excellent stage for that, and it is not the first time we are present at the work of this forum,” stated Erika Benkő, the director of the Mikó Imre Legal Aid Service. She also pointed out that this UN forum is the third international event where they have talked about the deficiencies of the Hungarian language education in Romania as well as the insults suffered by Hungarians, and they passed on their yearly report to the representatives of European minority protection. “We are determined to make our voices heard and provide a comprehensive briefing about the situation of Hungarians in Romania for those abroad to form an opinion,” said the director.

The Mikó Imre Legal Aid Service (full name, The Imre Mikó Minority Rights Legal Services Assistance) was established by the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ) to observe, signal and stop any kind of discrimination affecting the Hungarian community living in Romania.

The other day, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues Fernand de Varennes presented his annual report at the Human Rights Council. He pointed out that the European Commission should elaborate legislative initiatives according to the propositions of the Minority SafePack on minority language use and education.

One of the document’s recommendations is that modern approaches need to be pursued in the methodology of minority language education, and these should be adapted to the needs of the students.

One of the main elements of the document is that minority language students have to take their exams in the main teaching language (thus in Hungarian for Hungarians). The teaching of the official language must also be student-centered and the emphasis should be on the enhancement of communication skills. Furthermore, the document proposes that minority language classes should be made available for students belonging to the majority as well.

Title image: The teaching methodology of Romanian is not adequate for students belonging to ethnic and language minorities

Author: Éva Zay