(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 98-99, Note the Copyright!)
A glance at the Czech education system in the twentieth century will show how much it has suffered under the yoke of changing state ideologies. In only a few decades teachers and pupils have had to adapt to at least four radical shifts. After the fall of the Habsburg empire in 1918 a short constructive period was experienced by the state schools of Czechoslovakia. The year 1939 then saw the beginning of what was to be a tragic period, also for schools, first during the National Socialist regime and then, from 1948, during the reign of Communist ideology. Every change of state ideology brought with it radical changes in the aims and content of what had to be taught in schools. Despite the fact that Rudolf Steiner had given several lectures on education in Prague and although an attempt had been made to found a school during the 1920s, the chops and changes in education politics made it impossible for independent Waldorf Schools to develop. It only became possible to think of founding such establishments after the change brought about by the fall of Communism in 1989.
The foundation of Waldorf Schools and kindergartens was preceded in several places by underground preparatory work while the Communist regime was still in place. In Prague, for example, as well as at Semily, Príbram and Písek, there were study groups working on anthroposophy even in the 1980s. The first impulses to found schools arose out of these groups. Public lectures by Czech anthroposophists and seminars held by foreign Waldorf teachers in towns such as Písek, Ostrava, Príbram, Prague, Semily, Pardubice and Karlovy Vary persuaded not only teachers and kindergarten teachers but also prospective parents as well as the relevant education authorities that the time had come to found Waldorf Kindergartens and schools.
During the early years after the fall of Communism Waldorf Education took hold only gradually and hesitantly in isolated so-called “alternative” classes or kindergarten groups. It was not a foregone conclusion that a proper school would arise out of such modest beginnings. Two important tasks had to be tackled in those early days. First of all a thorough training of future Czech Waldorf teachers had to be set up. Secondly a legally clear and economically sound form of kindergarten and school needed to be secured. A number of individuals from the anthroposophical movement made considerable sacrifices in taking on this task: especially Dr Josef Bartos, Jana Mildeová and Vladimir Nejedlo. Working for the Czech Association for Waldorf Education, they contacted representatives of the Federation of Independent Waldorf Schools in Germany, the teacher training course in Stuttgart and also the International Association of Waldorf Kindergartens. With the help of these institutions it was possible as early on as 1992 to set up an in-service training programme for teachers and then, in 1993, to open the Waldorf Kindergarten seminar as well. Both seminars have been working without interruption ever since and are recognized by the Ministry for Education.
Waldorf Schools given experimental status
Regarding the legal situation it was necessary to have discussions with officials from the Ministry for Education. The upshot was that Waldorf Schools were granted the same legal and economic status as all other schools. They were given so-called “experimental” status, which even gave them some degree of protection against antiquated methods of control by school inspectors. The schools were granted a high level of autonomy in respect of their educational work and also, with some restrictions, in their internal administration. So the schools in Ostrava, Pardubice, Písek, Prague, Príbram and Semily, founded between 1990 and 1992, were able to develop with relatively little interference. In 1999 the most recent Czech Waldorf School was founded in conjunction with a new and independent teacher training seminar.
In the early years after the fall of Communism the schools were absorbed in their teaching work and in creating basic conditions for their existence as schools. Thus the people who worked with the Ministry for Education were chiefly those mentioned above who were not directly involved in the schools but functioned within the framework of the Czech Association for Waldorf Education. Since the mid-1990s, however, the teachers themselves have increasingly taken on these tasks. In 1995, for example, they wrote a Waldorf Education programme for the Ministry describing the curriculum and the educational and organizational frame-work of a Waldorf School. In 1997 a new further training seminar for in-service teachers was founded. In the same year the broad collaboration of Waldorf Schools was given form in the newly-founded Association of Waldorf Schools in the Czech Republic. Between 1997 and 1999 this Association took over all the important tasks of the Czech Association for Waldorf Education, such as the organization of training seminars and the provision of advice for new school initiatives, and more.
Meanwhile most of the Czech Waldorf Schools have reached the size of schools with nine classes and are now faced with adding Classes 10 to 13. In this connection a new curriculum had to be worked out and a new seminar for upper school teachers founded. The Prague Waldorf School “Jinonice” has taken on the co-ordination of preparatory work for the establishment of the upper school and for the organization of the upper school teachers’ seminar.
The Waldorf Kindergartens have followed a path similar to that taken by the schools. To date there are five kindergartens in the Czech Republic. Nearly 100 kindergarten teachers have meanwhile completed the Waldorf Kindergarten teacher training and participate regularly in further training courses. This means that Waldorf work is being done at about 14 other kindergartens or kindergarten groups throughout the Republic. The Waldorf Kindergartens have also formed their own association.
Anthroposophical curative education has from the beginning been represented mainly by two individuals: Dr Jana Vásová and Dr Anezka Krcková. The first class in a growing Waldorf School for children with special needs opened in 1990. Thanks to the hard work and guidance of its founder, Dr Jana Vásová, and strong support by Helicon, the training centre at Zeist in the Netherlands, it is already a full school with 12 classes. A curative education training centre has also been in operation for a number of years, the Tábor Academy of Social Art Therapy led by Dr Anezka Krcková. Attached to this a curative home is being developed at Nová Ves u Lomnice nad Popelkou in eastern Bohemia.
In the early years after the collapse of the Communist regime the public were very open to Waldorf Education, and this carried forward the first wave of foundations at the beginning of the 1990s. This openness and enthusiasm has disappeared over the years. On the whole people are now indifferent or even sceptical towards all the new initiatives that came in with the change of political power. However, for the most part the media are positive towards the schools, and Waldorf Education occupies a recognized position in most university education departments. The main task for the coming years will be to establish stable upper schools, and for this enthusiastic teachers will be needed. New ways of accompanying and advising new school initiatives within the association of Waldorf Schools will have to be worked out. In addition to the school at Brno which opened its doors in 1999, new foundations are expected in Prague and also at Olomouc, Liberec and Zdár nad Sázavou where parents’ associations have already been formed and some publicity work is being undertaken. This is a sign that interest in Waldorf Education is growing in the Czech Republic.
From 1998, class teacher at the Semily Waldorf School. Doctorate at Bielefeld University.