(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 58-59, Note the Copyright!)
The Waldorf movement came to Belgium at the end of the Second World War. A number of anthroposophists, including Emile Gevers, met at Antwerp in 1948 to found a Waldorf Kindergarten. The first school opened there 1954 and became officially recognized in 1965. A great deal of help came from the Netherlands and Germany: Arnold Henny, Wim Veltman, Herbert Hahn and Bernard Lievegoed gave lectures to large audiences. The school grew, and the first Belgian Waldorf teachers gained a legendary reputation.
Consolidation after a flurry of foundations
It was not until the 1970s that Waldorf Schools also came to be founded elsewhere in Belgium. When this began to happen the impetus came from parents who wanted this type of education for their children. Waldorf Schools came into being in various towns in the North, in every province except Limburg, and later also in smaller municipalities. The Court St Etienne School, the first and only one in the southern francophone part of the country, did not come into being until the 1980s. After the explosive growth of the 1980s and the steady increase of the 1990s, a plateau has now been reached as regards both the number of schools and the number of pupils.
Waldorf Schools have been receiving state subsidies since the beginning of the 1980s. As with other independent schools, mostly Catholic, teachers’ salaries are paid directly by the state. A condition, however, is that teachers must have the state diploma, which means that the schools’ choice of teachers is not entirely free. Small subsidies only are available for infrastructure and materials. So parents make monthly donations to the school depending on their means.
Control over schools by means of learning goals
Belgium does not have centralized school-leaving exams, so each school sets its own. Nevertheless the authorities do not want to relinquish their control entirely. Up to 1995 there were state curricula, and Waldorf Schools were able to submit theirs for approval. Since 1997, however, a new state system of control has been in place for the lower school and since 2000 for the upper school: the “learning goals” which have to be achieved by the majority of pupils once they reach a specified age. These learning goals apply in principle to all schools. The Waldorf Schools have taken legal steps against them and have succeeded in proving that these learning goals are contradictory to the educational freedom stipulated by the country’s constitution. According to a judgment given by the Belgian constitutional court on 18 December 1996, the Flemish Waldorf Schools are permitted to set their own learning goals which, however, have to gain state recognition. Permission for the school in the francophone part of Belgium to set its own goals was not given by the court until 18 April 2001. The court abolished the introduction of the 641 learning goals for the lower school on the grounds that they did not leave sufficient leeway for a school’s own teaching methods.
Multiplicity of languages in schools
Belgium has three official languages: Dutch (52%) French (47%) and German (1%). It is therefore important to offer several foreign languages. The schools in Flanders start with French and English in the lowest class, and from Class 9 or 10 onwards German is added. The curriculum of Waldorf Schools in Belgium differs from those in other countries on account of historical developments and compromises with the authorities. On the whole such compromises are minor such as, for example, treatment of electronic switching and binary numbers in Class 8 in preparation for the use of IT in the higher classes. There is also the obligation to teach an ideological subject, but since the Waldorf Schools in Belgium have never taught religion, negotiations with the authorities have led to permission being given to teach a subject called “Culture Studies”. In the lower school this is treated by means of stories while in the upper school social, philosophical and religious streams and questions are the theme.
Waldorf Schools against standardization
The greatest problem facing the schools in Belgium is that of increasingly stringent directives from the authorities. Thus it has become almost impossible to found a new Waldorf School because the figure of 85 children for the lower school and 300 pupils for the upper school has to be reached before a school can qualify for subsidies. And as regards the content of the subjects taught there are ongoing disputes concerning subject matter that is specific to these schools. In recent years there have been accusations of sectarianism, especially against the francophone school in the southern part of Belgium where the authorities are even keener on the standardization that regularly places pressure on Waldorf Schools. In the northern part of the country, minorities enjoy a more liberal atmosphere, are well thought of and positively represented in the media for example when they offer their buildings for large public exhibitions, participate in theatre competitions or organize pupil exchanges. Some universities are interested in the education, and invite Waldorf teachers in as guest lecturers.
In-depth work and consolidation is now going on in Belgium’s Waldorf Schools. A professional advisory service for teachers is being set up and attempts are being made to found a teacher training academy, although this is both legally and structurally virtually impossible here. However, a Waldorf Education module at a university in Antwerp last year offered students the chance to take further training as Waldorf lower school and kindergarten teachers.
The situation in curative education
Curative work began in Belgium in 1969. The Parcival School for special education started in Antwerp at the same time as the Iona Institute which offers places for children with developmental problems. A further project did not follow until 1982, one intended for the children of the first two, who had meanwhile grown to adulthood. Other initiatives then followed in quick succession but, typically for the situation in Belgium, each one had to fight for several years to gain recognition and support from the state. Establishments run in accordance with anthroposophical principles have had to be founded in the teeth of resistance from the government. In recent years, however, there has been an improvement in mutual relations accompanied by more openness. Curative education is now recognized as an important and successful alternative and space for expansion is opening up.
Director of the Waldorf Academy in Antwerp.