Breaking the Ice for Eastern Europe
(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 100-101, Note the Copyright!)
The first Waldorf School in Hungary was founded in 1926 by Maria von Nagy (1894-1982) who had actually met Rudolf Steiner. That small school only existed for a few years, but for the history of the school movement in Hungary the fact of its brief life is deeply significant. From it a number of individuals took up the impulse of Waldorf Education and nurtured it throughout the years of war and Communist domination. The first among these was the writer and journalist Sándor Török (1904-1985). Several of those who founded the early Waldorf initiatives in the years after the 1989 change-over stemmed from the circle of young people he, a counsellor of genius, had gathered around him during the years following the war. In other anthroposophical groups, too, Rudolf Steiner’s intentions with regard to education were cultivated and, in a private setting, also occasionally practised discretely with pre-school children.
Political turnaround reflected in the education scene
The revolutionary changes of the late 1980s were also reflected in education. For example the Sándor Török Foundation for Waldorf Education was created which set up the first Waldorf Kindergarten at Solymár near Budapest in 1988 under the guidance of Annette Stroteich. Radical changes in the spring and summer of 1989 resulted from the overthrow and then death of party chief János Kádár, the festive reinstatement of Imre Nagy who had led the revolution in 1956, and the dismantling of the barbed wire border to Austria. All this also gave impetus to the founding of the school at Solymár where the first class began on 4 September 1989 with Anna Krigovszki as its class teacher. This was the first Waldorf School and indeed the first non-state school in the whole of the eastern bloc. Thus Hungary became the forerunner and “ice-breaker” in a development that was to spread to many other countries. At that moment, with state-imposed Socialism still in place, there was no way of telling what was about to happen in the rest of eastern and eastern Central Europe in the coming months and years, nor how rapid would be the expansion of Waldorf Education in Hungary itself.
Sándor Török Foundation plans teacher training
Once the school had been founded the Sándor Török Foundation set about creating training possibilities for teachers and kindergarten teachers. In February 1991 a post-graduate weekend course was set up in collaboration with the official Gusztáv Bárczy University for Special Education in Budapest. Zsuzsa Mesterházi, then Vice-Rector, now Rector of that University, took on responsibility for this. Five courses have meanwhile been completed there. In September of the same year the basic four-year training was set up at Solymár in collaboration with the Institute for Waldorf Education at Witten-Annen, Germany, for which Tamás Vekerdy took responsibility. From 1995 onwards it became possible to run the whole four-year course in Hungary. This was after premises had been acquired and János Darvas, with many years’ experience as a Waldorf teacher in France, Germany and Switzerland, had joined the team. Later two-year post-graduate courses were added. Annette Stroteich set up post-graduate weekend courses for accredited kindergarten teachers. There is also a four-year eurythmy training course run by Mária Scheily and Clemens Schleuning and also a three-year one-weekend-a-month course on Bothmer gymnastics. There are also a number of further training seminars for in-service teachers. This completes the picture of training initiatives directly connected with Waldorf Education.
Parents found Waldorf Schools
The schools founded during the early years were independent initiatives carried for the most part by motivated parents. Meanwhile, 17 schools have started to function in and around the capital city which dominates the whole country, but also in northern and eastern Hungary and later also in the West and South. Five of these have reached the upper school. The Solymár school, which had to move to Budapest-Pesthidegkút, prepared its first Class 13 for the school-leaving qualification in 2000/01. The kindergarten movement now has more than 40 groups all over the country.
Political independence versus state intervention
Waldorf Schools are independent schools run by foundations or associations. Since the political and social turn-around of 1989 the state has been willing to make space for alternative education. A per-capita subsidy from the Ministry for Education for pupils at alternative schools is guaranteed by law. Usually this allows for 40 to 60% of running costs to be met. The rest is provided by parents - not without difficulty in view of the low incomes in wide circles of the population. In some cases schools have succeeded in obtaining additional funding from local authorities. Some small-scale one-off projects can also obtain funding from local or foreign foundations. A very small number of schools have been allocated premises at favourable prices, but many initiatives are handicapped by excessively high rents, which place a heavy burden on parents’ contributions and teachers’ salaries.
The state’s framework guidelines on curriculum, marking and recognition of teachers’ diplomas pose a constant challenge. The school movement, now a legal entity in the form of the charitable Association for Waldorf Education in Hungary, wrestles with these problems in commissions of teachers, parents and competent friends. The relative freedom which made space for a great variety of forms between 1989 and 1998 is now being increasingly narrowed through central interventions by the state. New political strategies regarding independent schools are in the pipeline. To make sure that these do not stifle independence it will be necessary to raise awareness and create structures in which citizens’ initiatives can make a difference.
Waldorf Education links up with Hungarian tradition
Over a decade has passed since the first foundation in 1989. At that time all those involved were well aware that Waldorf Education linked up with precedents in the national tradition: the impulses of Count Stefan Széchenyi (1792-1860), the education reforms of Baron József Eötvös (1813-1871) and the educational anthropology of Sándor Karácsony (1871-1952). As things are now, it is impossible to imagine Hungary’s education scene without Waldorf Education, for there is hardly a Hungarian who has not heard of it. The decisive questions to be tackled for the near future are those concerning quality - and an integral aspect in this respect is the urgent matter of upholding adequate forms and processes of teacher training. In Hungary, as every-where in the world, Waldorf Education will be measured by its fruits. In the long term it will not be theoretical principles - however convincing - nor fashion, nor marketing that will measure this, but the personalities of the teachers who, by their skills in the art of education, ensure that children and young people are seen, approached and helped to grow in an all-round way involving body, soul and spirit.
Waldorf teacher in Germany and Switzerland. From 1995 director of the teachers’ seminar at Solymár.