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Home: Freunde Waldorf

A Land of Independent Education

(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 82-83, Note the Copyright!)

Independent schools have existed in Denmark since the 1850s. They emerged from the movement that also generated the voluntary folk high schools inspired by N. F. S. Grundtvig (1783-1872) who had been profoundly influenced by Heinrich Steffens (1773-1845). Rooted in German idealism, the latter had given brilliant lectures during the early nineteenth century which strongly influenced the cultural life of Denmark thereafter. Grundtvig was a clergyman and poet who regarded human beings as having been created out of God as free and responsible individuals. Through the school movement he founded, which aimed to educate children to become individuals who would be independent in their thinking and have an attitude of responsibility towards themselves and their community, Denmark became a land of independent education.

In the year 2000 the Danish Waldorf School movement was able to look back over 50 years of work. The first school, Vidar Skolen, had been founded in Copenhagen in 1950. Thereafter the number of schools rose to 17, with the most recent being founded once again in Copenhagen. Most of the Danish schools, especially in less populated areas, are lower and middle schools, with only a few in the towns having an upper school. Initially schools tended to arise through the initiative of anthroposophists who spent many years in preparation, but as time has gone on this has changed. Now they tend to be founded where there are several kindergartens, in answer to parents’ wishes for a Waldorf School in their neighbourhood. The kindergartens are very popular, and there are also crèches for the littlest children in several places. This reflects the need of many mothers as well as fathers to earn a wage in Denmark.

Denmark also has several curative education establishments. These are quite generously supported by the state and their work is widely recognized. The best known is perhaps the Marjatta Home on the island of Sjaelland. In some cases special classes are integrated within a school.

Lessons are obligatory but not exams

The long tradition of an independent education system reaching back to the nine-teenth-century movement for people’s education means that school attendance is not obligatory although children must be taught up to the ninth year of schooling. It is up to parents to decide what form this should take, and in principle they could teach their children themselves if they wished (Para.76 of the Danish constitution). Recognized independent schools receive approximately 70% of the cost per pupil. The basis on which recognition is granted is that the teaching must be of the same standard though not necessarily of the same content as that in mainstream schools. Supervision of a school is up to the parents who usually commission someone to carry this out. That person is merely obliged to ensure that the instruction in Danish, English and maths is adequate.

Waldorf Schools do not set any exams or grade pupils by marking and thus do not supply formal proof of qualification for further education. This increases their freedom to shape their lessons and administer their affairs in the way they see fit, a valuable asset which they hope to preserve. They therefore do not intend to strive for formal recognition of their upper school work even though this is fully comparable with the content and standard in mainstream schools.

Of course this freedom comes at a price, since pupils finish Class 12 without any formal university entrance qualification. Many therefore leave before Class 12 in order to sit the necessary exams elsewhere which in some instances tends to leave an upper school rather depleted. On the other hand pupils who stay on for Class 12 are not required to take the full university entrance examination afterwards. Their lengthy written report which details everything studied in the upper school means that to gain university entrance they only need to “top up” certain subjects relevant to their future studies.

The financial situation is not without its problems. Danish Waldorf Schools receive state subsidies up to Class 10 only, with Classes 11 and 12 having to be financed by parents’ contributions. However, a recent new law has eased the situation in Class 12 to some extent. This enables youngsters to plan an education programme lasting up to three years and made up of various components which the state will support financially. The twelfth year at a Waldorf School can be one of the components, and most Class 12 pupils who stay on at their school make use of this. The situation in Class 11 remains unresolved.

Communal singing and individual work

The Waldorf Schools in Denmark of course regard themselves as a part of Danish culture and accord Danish literature, art and history their proper place in the curriculum. The country’s rich heritage of songs plays an important role in celebrating the course of the year. The whole school gathers in the morning to sing together, and sometimes the upper school also recites poetry in chorus. The individual projects covering the whole year are an important ingredient of the work in Class 12. Much hard work is involved before they can finally be ceremoniously presented to the whole school and the public at large. Each project is assessed by an expert in the field, and this assessment forms a part of the final school report.

Recently the schools have been considering how they and the Waldorf Education movement as a whole can revitalize themselves from within. As far as the teaching is concerned, several of the schools are working on how to make the curriculum more flexible. They are also looking to see how different teachers involved with a specific class can collaborate more in co-ordinating their work with that class. Some are focussing on reshaping the upper schools and possibly bringing about some regional collaboration between schools in this matter. An educationally fruitful way of bringing IT into the curriculum is another theme on which work is being done.

Work on renewal

The time has come to reflect on what is meant by the concept of a school being a self-administrated social organism. Several of the schools and also the Federation of Independent Rudolf Steiner Schools are working on the basic principles of self-administration and trying to find new forms of internal collaboration amongst the teachers as well as with the parents and school boards. How to conduct a dialogue with the general public is also a matter of concern.

One manifestation of these efforts occurred in May 2000 when a large exhibition on Waldorf Education was mounted in Copenhagen. This was the first effort of its kind in which all the schools participated. Displays of pupils’ work, performances and workshops all served to provide insights into the life of a Waldorf School. Meetings with public figures known to be concerned with education and social matters demonstrated the will of the schools to emerge from the relative obscurity of their work within their own four walls and enter into a more open dialogue with the public at large.

ANNA MARGRETHE SCHOLLAIN

Anna Margrethe Schollain
Involved in Waldorf teacher training in Denmark and the Ukraine. Translator of anthroposophical works into Danish.