News

News

Who determines who we are?

The broad field of femininity/masculinity offers a wealth of fluid identificational references and developmental possibilities if with humour and goodwill we allow our children’s and grandchildren’s generation to undergo the experiences they are seeking.

 … >>

Waldorf education on the move in Asia

More than 900 people attended the recent Asian Waldorf Teachers’ Conference in China. Among other things, the conference discussed issues facing Waldorf establishments, including their legal status and cultural adaptation

 … >>

Developing Pedagogical Quality – but how?

Thomas Stöckli and his team at the Institute for Action Research in Switzerland have developed a method to develop the educational quality of teaching.

 … >>

Putting modern childhood under the spotlight

The International Festival of Childhood, planned for later this year, aims to examine the issues affecting modern childhood. The evidence suggests that there is a massive toll on child health and wellbeing, say the organisers. … >>

New Waldorf World List online

Overall list that includes all Waldorf- and Steiner schools, kindergartens and teacher-training centres for Waldorf educators and Waldorf teachers around the world … >>

The challenge of Waldorf

Being a Waldorf teacher is a challenge which means that Waldorf education in China has found it difficult to retain teachers. … >>

Founding a Waldorf school in the midst of economic crisis

NNA correspondent Cornelie Unger-Leistner visited the Waldorf project group in the Greek capital.

Von: NNA correspondent Cornelie Unger-Leistner
Is it feasible to found a Waldorf school in crisis-riven Athens? Yes, it should be attempted, according to the Athens Waldorf initiative group, which in fact sees its work as a small contribution to resolving the crisis.  ATHENS (NNA) – It’s a Wednesday evening. In an office in inner-city Athens, Michael Tsigotsides, spokesman for the Athens Waldorf initiative, displays a map of Europe bristling with little pins representing Waldorf schools in all European countries. There’s no pin in Greece. “We’re the only country without a Waldorf school, and the time is ripe now for this initiative,” says Tsigotsides, who worked for around 20 years as an upper school teacher in Waldorf schools in Sweden. He also runs several training courses in Athens for prospective Waldorf teachers. The school project group has been meeting for the past eight years and includes mothers, teachers and a musician. Their work has started from four small Waldorf kindergartens in various parts of the city, and one outside Athens, each of which has one group of children. Three of the kindergartens are named after Greek trees: Pommegranate, Walnut and Almond, while a fourth is called Rainbow. Until now, the 40 or so children who attend these centres have been going on to state schools when they reach formal schooling age. First steps But change is now afoot in Athens. Last year a first submission was made to the minister for education and culture with a view to founding a primary school, and the longer term aim of a secondary school as well. As stated in the initiative’s literature, the school will seek “to enable children and adolescents to become independent and responsible citizens in society and the world by allowing them to develop as individuals in a healthy way in the context of Greek culture”. A building was already in the offing too, in the Várkiza suburb of Athens; but then everything ground to a halt when statutory regulations were altered. The initiative group, however, refuses to be discouraged. “Parents are disgruntled with state schools, and they’re looking for alternatives,” says Elisabeth, a Waldorf parent in the project group. Children are increasingly expected to produce higher academic performance at an ever earlier age, and many parents don’t like the trend. “Teachers don’t really get the children interested in the subjects they teach them. They’re completely focused on them getting good enough marks to enter college or university.” Maria, who is herself a teacher in the state system, also thinks that far too little emphasis is placed on modern skills of dialogue and teamwork. “People keep saying that children in Greece don’t learn nearly enough about working together, and that this is also one of the causes of the current crisis. Yet the government offers no strategies or visions for changing this.” In her own work she herself has experienced how Waldorf pedagogy can better serve children’s needs: “I was a teacher, but an unhappy one. I had my ‘teaching techniques’, but I had no idea what children really need.” Being a Waldorf teacher is more than just having a qualification, she says firmly. “It’s a different way of looking at the world.” Opposite her sits Sophia, a German specialist who can imagine teaching German one day at the new Athens Waldorf school. She too wants to encourage her fellow campaigners not to give up despite the set-back. “We have to overcome the financial and bureaucratic obstacles and also find the right location for the school.” Obstacles The Várkiza location has been dropped now since kindergarten parents thought it was too far away. Finding a potential site is one of the obstacles the initiative needs to address if the Athens Waldorf school is to become a reality. Athens, with its extensive suburbs, has a population around six times that of Edinburgh (sometimes called the ‘Athens of the North’) and, as Michael Tsigotsides explains, parents are not accustomed to their children travelling a long way to get to school. This is just one of the factors that shows the Athens initiative will need support from the international Waldorf School movement, with its expertise in establishing new schools. The legal position is also very problematic at present, since the Greek Constitution places exclusive responsibility for schooling in the hands of the state. Though there are numerous profit-making private schools, they have to adhere closely to the Greek national curriculum. “We had hoped the influence of the EU in Greece might have helped bring about some changes here, but in fact the cutbacks mean there is now rather less scope for action than before. Paradoxically, though, the government does want to see changes and reforms in the education system” says Tsigotsides. The Greek government, he continues, has also signed the European Declaration of Human Rights, which gives parents – not the state - responsibility for their children’s education, and also accords them the right to choose the type of school they wish. “Our constitution is now out of step with this, and there are efforts to change it. But it is all an uphill battle, and we’re hoping that EU institutions will help broaden opportunities for independent schools.” The initiative group’s application to the minister of culture and education last year did, however, represent an important first step, despite the fact that statutory changes brought everything to a halt for the time being. “The process has been put on hold for now, and we’ll have to wait and see what happens,” says Michael Tsigotsides. Julia, a special school teacher and member of the initiative emphasises that the work will continue unabated: “Our vision is to have a Waldorf school here in Athens, and we want to ground this idea in reality – ‘download’ it if you like …” Waldorf parents visiting Athens, who were moved by these courageous efforts, have set about supporting the venture financially by making toys, selling them at a Waldorf school fair in Switzerland, and handing over the proceeds to the project. Effects of the economic crisis The severe economic crisis in Greece also comes up in the group as it discusses the issues with NNA, above all the response to the crisis from Greek citizens. We learn that one effect of the crisis has been for people to pull together more and discuss problems more openly. People are far readier now to help each other. But mention is also made of the suicides caused by financial adversity, although Greece basically has one of the lowest suicide rates in the EU. Household budgets in Greece are still under dire pressure, and there is no current prospect of improvement here. The severe cutbacks and austerity measures ordered by EU Commission representatives, the international monetary fund and the European Central Bank (the “Troika”) to reduce the country’s big budget deficit, are as ever hitting ordinary Geek citizens hardest. During his visit to Italy, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras recently highlighted that the recession in Greece is now in its sixth year, and that the gross national product has shrunk by 25% during the same period. With tax and inflation on top, the average disposable income of Greek citizens over this period has fallen by around 40%. There have been worrying articles in the Greek Press about fuel prices in the coming winter – higher there now than in prosperous Germany due to the Troika intervention. In addition, a supplementary tax on property ownership, originally planned as a temporary measure, is now envisaged for the long term, and is to include land without buildings. Even some experts in the international monetary fund now concede that the harsh austerity measures enforced on Greece by the Troika, with massive curtailment of people’s income, has only exacerbated the crisis. Reports in the newspapers in Athens state that national debt has continued to rise throughout the Euro zone, not just in Greece, and by October had reached 8.87 trillion euros (£7.39 trillion, USD 12.22 trillion). This is still less, though, than the USA’s budget deficit of 17 trillion dollars, which is over 100 percent of the US gross national product. With its budget deficit of 169.1 percent of gross national product, Greece remains the most indebted of the Euro zone countries, followed by Italy, whose deficit currently stands at 134 percent of gross national product. (All figures taken from official EU publications, cited in Athens Views of 25 October 2013). The aim for Greece is to limit its budget deficit to 120 percent by 2020. Waldorf school at a time of adversity The austerity measures, above all public sector lay-offs, reductions in wages and pensions, and cut-backs in the health service, have led to strikes and mass protests. In the 2012 elections, the radical rightwing group the “Golden Dawn” gained many votes, as did the leftwing, anti-Europe group Syriza. The “Golden Dawn”, which denies the Holocaust, and publicly discriminates against ethnic minorities and migrants, won parliamentary seats in the election. In an interview, Benjamin Albalas – chairman of the council of all Jewish communities in Greece – says he could never have imagined this happening. He blames these developments on the economic crisis, at the same time seeing the neo-fascist gains as a problem of education. In the context of these social and political upheavals, the work of the Athens Waldorf activists seems reminiscent of the original history of the Waldorf School, which emerged in 1919 from a widespread crisis in Europe following the First World War. “What can be done to remedy these afflictions of our time?” was the anxious question posed by factory proprietor Emil Molt, during travels through Switzerland in the upheavals of the post-war period. A lecture given by Rudolf Steiner in Dornach, which Molt attended, made him think of founding a school based on radical new educational principles as a possible way forward out of crisis. END/nna/ung/mb Contact: waldorf.hellas (at) gmail.com Item: 131231-03EN Date: 31 December 2013   Copyright 2013 News Network Anthroposophy Limited. All rights reserved.

Go back