The education of children – a global challenge
Worldwide, there are over 1,000 schools based on Rudolf Steiner’s insights. Each is unique and autonomous, and functions regardless of political and language borders. How so?
Worldwide, there are over 1,000 Steiner-Waldorf schools. In 80 countries and on all continents: Europe 664, North America 152, Latin America 71, Africa 71, Asia 91. These schools, officially recognised, are linked together through national and international associations.
What holds all these schools together?
Coordinator of Steiner-Waldorf Schools in Switzerland and Lichtenstein
Surprisingly for many people, it is the fact that they are all autonomous. There is no central direction, but a network of autonomous entities, with collegiate governance. Their inner coherence in fact derives from their shared awareness of child development as informed by anthroposophy. The fundamental idea of all Steiner-Waldorf schools is to unfold a curriculum based on the different stages of human development. The collaboration follows on from this. For this reason, moving from one school to another, whether from New York to Zurich, or Prague to Oslo, presents no problem, as many Steiner-Waldorf students can testify.
The Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum links the schools through contacts and conferences. The Friends of Steiner-Waldorf Education in Germany, the Accacia Foundation in Switzerland and the Alliance for Childhood in the USA and Europe promote teacher training and scientific research, to the end that the adults of tomorrow can themselves decide and choose a socially viable future.
Steiner-Waldorf education is also an international movement, which provides an intercultural context for many pedagogic projects around the world. Even in strife-torn places, the movement has already proved its worth in countries as diverse as Israel, Palestine, Kosovo and Sierra Leone. Many schools are affiliated to international movements such as UNESCO or EFFE (European Forum for Freedom in Education).
Respectful of humanity’s varied spiritual, moral and cultural traditions, Steiner-Waldorf schools have an active presence in today’s debates.
What kind of education do today’s children need?
An interview with children’s doctor, Remo Largo.
School stress, examination anxiety, medications; what can parents and teachers do?
Our only chance is to trust the children: Every child wants to learn and develop. When we do not have confidence in them, we assume false responsibilities.
What, then, is our right responsibility?
In my view, it is to create a space in which, at all ages, children can learn. But for this we need to know what they need at what age. Above all, the needs of children are not determined by the economy. It is for this reason that Steiner-Waldorf education is oriented towards the child.
What do you expect as a ‘Steiner-Waldorf dad’?
What convinced me was that Rudolf Steiner sought to identify children’s needs at different stages and to match their school environment to that. He managed this much better than state schools; and it is still the case. The way Steiner-Waldorf education is applied today is still valid. What I appreciate most is the absence of marking pressure and is related assessment methods.
After 80 years, why have Steiner-Waldorf schools not had a bigger influence on education generally?
The influence has been indirect. State schools have gradually filled their gaps through taking heed of both Steiner and Montessori. Nowadays all schools are under great pressure to achieve something quite radical: They are subject to many external influences – globalisation, and all manner of economic and social pressures.
But can we not ask if a change of paradigm is not needed? Should every individual not be allowed to develop his own forces, his own strengths?
In this regard, today’s youth presents an especially serious problem. Some Steiner-Waldorf schools, for example the South Jura School in Solothurn, offer lengthy courses and portfolio options designed to equip young people for life and for entry into the workplace. We need to continue researching in this direction. The same goes for state schools. We will have more possibilities than usual, precisely if we build on the needs of children and adolescents.
Extracts from an interview with Thomas Stockli, 2nd July 2008 in Uznach. For the full version, see Das Goetheanum, 6th February 2009.
Dr Remo Largo is a children’s doctor and child development specialist. He has published 120 scientific papers, including the very successful “Babyjahre” [Baby Years] (600,000 copies sold), “Kinderjahre” [Child Years] and “Glückliche Scheidungskinder” [Lucky Divorce Children]. He has three daughters and four grandchildren. His latest book, “Schülerjahre” [Student Years], was published in February 2009.
Steiner-Waldorf Schools – a chance for education generally?
Chairman of the Government
Minister of the Department of Education and Culture, Solothurn
Rudolf Steiner’s pedagogical insights have long had an important place in general Swiss educational life. Many state school teachers have read Steiner’s work and have incorporated elements developed in Steiner-Waldorf schools, such as project work, a major school-leaving project, early language education, and much else.
All abilities in one class
Despite the great changes in education since Steiner’s time, and today’s important developments notwithstanding, Steiner-Waldorf schools have always had special characteristics. For example, they have always included all abilities throughout the school period and artistic activities have a central place. Then there is the so-called epochal study which takes place by way of double-period ‘main lessons’ focus on a topic for two to three weeks at a time. Another important aspect is the inclusion of eurythmy, which gives students a way to experience languages and music quite differently. It also teaches them to perceive things mutually and to act together.
A place for developing feeling
Another remarkable aspect is the twelve-year curriculum. The basis is always the way in which children use their intellectual and practical faculties, their feeling life and their propensity to be alive to the world and to assume responsibility. None of this is at the expense of subjects that today’s economy and society deem necessary. Steiner-Waldorf school students quickly find their place in the world.
My advice to Steiner-Waldorf schools is to continue to pioneer and to give impulses for the future!
Openmindedness can be learned
Modern information and communication technologies, combined with greater mobility and worldwide travel, are making the world a smaller place. Education must help students to be open to people of all social, ethnic and religious backgrounds. The smaller the world becomes, the larger must become the heart.
Concern for hunger
Today’s material progress is not to be gainsaid. Yet every year more and more people die of famine. It is no longer enough to bemoan the rich-poor divide. Children need an education that develops in them the ethical basis to understand and be mindful of the place and impact of human deeds on the world as a whole.
Responsibility for the earth and for nature
Climatic changes call on us to take care when using the earth’s resources. So education also needs to acquaint students with humanity’s dependence on a living earth and thriving nature.
Life must be meaningful
Modern technology displaces the need for work and frees us from ordinary tasks. We have more free time, but also the problem of unemployment. We know how to obviate work, but not, it seems, to provide meaningful activity.
Education therefore needs to equip students to value themselves and be resourceful when faced with life’s difficulties. A spirit of initiative, a wide world view, strong imagination and a clear sense of one’s own worth are thus as important for the individual as they are for society.
Whatever future awaits us, basic human competences will play a role as important, if not more so, as professional or other skills. Oriented to the needs of children, Steiner-Waldorf schools have placed this consideration at the heart of their pedagogical work for over 90 years.