“Hold Your Head Up High”
(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 90-91, Note the Copyright!)
Estonia, the northern-most and smallest of the three Baltic countries, reaches from the Gulf of Finland to the Gulf of Riga, from the Baltic Sea to Lake Peipus. This country has suffered a long history of foreign rule. In the thirteenth century it fell under the Teutonic Order, and the seventeenth century is to this day referred to as “the good old Swedish days”, the era in which the University of Tartu was founded. In 1720 Estonia was conquered by Peter the Great, and after a short period of independence between the World Wars it again fell under Russian, or rather Soviet rule. A high point in the country’s long road to independence and a climax in its traditional struggle and will to be free came when the blue, black and white flag of an independent Estonia was hoisted over Tallinn, its capital city, in 1991.
It all began with a seminar on Waldorf Education
The Estonians were the pioneers of alternative education in the Baltic region. In 1989, in order to meet the general interest in alternative education, the State Institute for Teacher Further Training in Tallinn ran an introductory seminar on Waldorf Education put on by teachers from the school at Tampere, Finland. In the wake of tremendous and turbulent changes in the country people were open to every new idea. They were hungry for what was fresh and true, they wanted new beginnings both inwardly and outwardly. So the number of participants at that seminar was huge. What people heard and experienced there left an impression so deep that some decided to found a Waldorf School for their own children while others were determined to teach in such a school. The resulting courses also gave Latvians and Lithuanians an impetus to get involved with Waldorf Education.
From about 1934 to 1940 there had already been a Waldorf Kindergarten in Tallinn run by Linda Kirusk-Kasemets, but this was too long ago for there to be any traditional link with the past. Waldorf Education work, either as a school, a pre-school class or a kindergarten, began in the autumn of 1990 at five locations (in Tallinn and at Tartu, Rakvere, Polva and Aruküla). Most parents had no idea what it was all about and simply wanted an alternative to the state system. Also in 1990 Tiiu Bläsi-Käo, born in Estonia but raised in Germany, arrived initially in an advisory capacity and to organize the summer conference at Tartu. This led to a 10-year permanent commitment which included responsibility for the Waldorf Teacher Training Seminar at Tartu which has a state licence as a further training establishment. Margus Tonnov, professor of mathematics at Tartu University, also teaches at the seminar. Even before the political turnaround he had been running an anthroposophical study group through which a number of future teachers including Melis Sügis and Sulev Ojab had come to hear about Waldorf Education. The establishment of the Estonian schools led to a small but vigorous school movement in which one sensed the pride of a newly-independent country whose national anthem begins with the words: “Hold your head up high.”
Criticism from the state and the public
After six years both the public and the education authorities began to look more critically at the Waldorf Schools. The authorities carried out achievement tests and their representatives visited the individual schools. This was a new situation on both sides. The officials expressed both praise and blame, but the latter appeared to predominate and thus became a subject for discussion. Rather naïvely the brochure of a Norwegian Waldorf School was published and wrongly stated to be the curriculum. This led to more misunderstandings. And then the press published a long article about the Waldorf Schools that was incorrect on many counts and emphatically negative overall. The source of the mis-information is known. This had a serious effect on the situation in the schools which lost many pupils. The only thing that could overcome such a situation was excellent work, and after a while people’s attitude towards the schools calmed down. Pupils who moved on to state schools after the end of their time at a Waldorf School showed that they had learnt just as much there as pupils do in mainstream schools.
Now, after ten years, the Tartu school is working to establish its upper school. Collaboration among the various Waldorf Schools began during the 1990 summer conference, an event which continues to be organized by different schools in turn. In 1992 the Association of Estonian Waldorf Schools was founded. This also includes the two curative schools. Official registration had to wait until 1997 when it first became possible to register charitable associations in Estonia.
Financing the schools
Since the promulgation of the law on private schools in 1993 Waldorf Schools in Estonia have been classed as private schools since their curriculum differs from that of state schools. They draw their funds from three sources: a state voucher for each pupil which covers teachers’ salaries, a subsidy from the local authority (which varies from place to place because these authorities are not obliged by law to supply it) for running costs and teaching materials, and fees paid by parents. The low number of pupils poses a real problem with some of the schools having to combine classes. The schools are also finding it difficult to attract good teachers, those who have been able to connect inwardly with the Waldorf impulse. The schools here have in fact for the most part been built up thanks to help from friends abroad in Finland, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands.
What will become of Estonia’s Waldorf Schools in the future? They will continue to exist so long as parents seek this education for their children and so long as teachers who want to work in this way can be found.
Studied architecture, education and Waldorf Education. Taught at the Engelberg School (Germany). Since 1990 establishing and running the Teacher Training Seminar in Tallin.
Studied education at Tallinn University. Studied Waldorf Education at the Stuttgart Teacher Training Seminar. Class teacher at the Polva Waldorf School.