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Home: Freunde Waldorf

Battle for an Independent Education System

(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 118-119, Note the Copyright!)

Waldorf Education has been known in Armenia since the 1920s. The Armenian writer and great politician Levon Shanth is thought to have heard Rudolf Steiner lecture for his educational writings contain ideas which obviously derive from Waldorf Education. At the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century a number of Armenian intellectuals, e.g. the writers Hovhannes Toumanian and Ghazaros Aghaian and the composer Komitas, stressed in their educational writings the importance of a holistic and harmonious development of the human being. The methods they suggested are very close to those of Waldorf Education.

Liberal education laws after the First World War

Liberal ideas on education were included in the law “On the Administration of Education” which was passed on 11 September 1918 and stood as valid from 1918 to 1920. The first three paragraphs still seem in advance of their age even today. They are:

§1 Education in the Republic of Armenia is not a state monopoly. Any society or organization, group or individual has the right to open and run a school independently.

§2 Support given to schools by the state does not signal that they belong to the state or the government or are going to become state schools.

§3 State education is rejected; an independent school system is preferred.

When Armenia became a Soviet state at the end of 1920 this liberal education tradition was thrown overboard. Waldorf Education only began to take its first cautious steps in the 1990s.

From the Independent University of Yerevan to the Waldorf School

The Armenian State Centre for Aesthetic Education was opened in the 1980s. It offered theatre workshops and artistic work groups for children of various ages. The Anthroposophical Centre for Cultural Initiatives “Shem” was founded in 1990. It organized public lectures and seminars led by both Armenian and guest speakers. Out of it grew the Independent University of Yerevan which opened its doors to students in 1992. Its lecturers were scientists who were held in high regard in Armenia. The University soon gained a reputation and attracted many students. No fees were charged, and the University survived financially through support from Armenian sponsors. However, as the country’s economic situation deteriorated the University lost its sponsors and had to close in 1998. The Independent University of Yerevan had provided the main impetus for the founding of the future Waldorf School.

First contacts were made with Waldorf teachers in 1986 when Angelika Weinmann, a teacher, and Regina Hoeck, a kindergarten teacher, from Überlingen (Germany) visited Armenia for one day. This visit was followed in June 1992 by the first full seminar. In the years that followed several block seminars on Waldorf Education were held. The school and a Waldorf teacher training seminar were both founded in 1994. In addition to the seminars and courses run in Yerevan, a number of students gained opportunities to continue their studies and obtain a thorough grounding in western European countries. Destiny unfortunately did not bring all of these back to Armenia.

The kindergarten gains its own home

With the support of Regina Hoeck and within the framework of State Kindergarten No. 204, Olga Saroyan opened the first Waldorf group under the auspices of “Shem” and the Yerevan city council’s Department for Education. This group soon gained a good reputation both among parents and among local and foreign experts. Nevertheless, the conflicts that always arise between Waldorf and traditional education soon appeared as usual. The group therefore moved out of Kindergarten No. 204 and carried on as a private kindergarten in a rented apartment.

Experimental status ensures continued existence

At the end of the 1980s a number of teachers tried to introduce Waldorf methods for specific subjects in a number of schools in the capital city. The first Waldorf class began in 1991 within the Mushegh Ishchan state school. In 1994 a second Waldorf class was started in the Garegin Hovsepyan state school. In the same year the third class from the Mushegh Ishchan school moved into this school. Then a further class was added each year, so that today the Waldorf wing of the school has over 200 pupils, more than the traditional wing, and 26 teachers. In reality the Waldorf wing has developed into a separate school. As the reputation and authority of the Waldorf School grew, the rift between the two wings deepened so that in September 1999 and again in 2000 the head of the school forbade the new Class 1 pupils of the Waldorf wing to enter. In 1999 the situation was smoothed over by Armenia’s Prime Minister, and in 2000 the Minister for Education and Science got involved so that after a 3-week stand-off the class was opened. The authorities are positively disposed towards Waldorf Education and the school collaborates effectively with the Ministry of Education’s Republican Centre for Education Reform. The Minister for Education and Science decided in 2000 to grant the school experimental status which guarantees it state support with a minimum of interference. Thus the continued existence of the Waldorf School is assured for the present. A large part of the curriculum has been recognized by the Ministry for Education. It fits in with state requirements in that it cultivates national culture and folklore and celebrates the festivals of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Since 2000 the school has had a travelling circus group which participates in festive events organized by the city. Even before this, in 1998, it performed for the children of Spitak, the town so damaged by earthquake. As regards exams, the Waldorf School does better than the other schools in the capital city. There have been several reports about the school in the press and on television.

Waldorf Education as a precursor for a liberal education system

Many well-known intellectuals, politicians, scientists and representatives of education speak up in favour of Waldorf Education. The German Embassy in Yerevan and the Armenian office of the European Forum for Freedom in Education have spoken publicly about the world-wide character and legal position of Waldorf Education. Of all the alternative schools founded during the 1990s, the Waldorf School is the only one still in existence. Therefore its achievements on the way to becoming recognized by the state and by the public at large are of great importance in principle also for the development of other alternative education methods in Armenia.

In the future Waldorf establishments will find a firm place within the education system of Armenia and will help in developing it further.

EDUARD SAROYAN

Eduard Saroyan
Department head at the Central State Library. Publisher. Founded the Independent University of Yerevan and the Yerevan Waldorf School.