(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 80-81, Note the Copyright!)
This island in the northern Atlantic Ocean was populated by the Vikings and, since the ninth century, by Celtic monks. For seven centuries it was ruled by Norway and Denmark until it declared its independence in 1944. In the year 2001 Iceland’s population numbered around 275,000 of whom around 100,000 live in and around Reykjavik, the capital city in the southern part of the country. Fishing and tourism have hitherto ensured a high standard of living, and in future the computer industry is to be built up as well.
Waldorf Education in Iceland goes back to the 1930s. In 1930 Sesselja Sigmundsdóttir (1900-1974) opened a home for orphans which she named Sólheimar (Sun Worlds). Between 1927 and 1929 she had worked at Ita Wegman’s Sonnenhof establishment in Switzerland where she had got to know anthroposophical curative education and also Waldorf Education. Soon some children in need of special care also came to Sólheimar, and Sesselja Sigmundsdóttir welcomed them all with open arms. After her death in 1979 the anthroposophical work at Solheimár ceased, but some young people who had been inspired by the work went abroad to study Waldorf Education and anthroposophy.
Rural and city schools in Iceland
In 1986 a young Icelander tried to found a Waldorf School at Sólheimar but this only lasted for a year. In September 1991 a group who had trained in various anthroposophical fields started the Sólstafir Waldorf School in Reykjavik. In 1994 another school, Waldorfskólinn i Lækjarbotnum, was founded in a rural setting outside Reykjavik. There are now also two kindergartens which have grown rapidly. A very important event took place in 1995: the Ministry for Education recognized Waldorf Schools as primary schools. In 1998 the two schools together with the kindergartens put on an exhibition about the education. Parts of this came from the exhibition mounted by the Friends of Waldorf Education and parts from exercise books and craft and handwork items, accompanied by demonstrations of physics lessons.
Waldorf Schools enjoy the same rights as other private schools in Iceland: 50% of average costs are covered by local authorities. Investment has to be raised by the schools themselves. They meet with a degree of public acceptance because it is so obvious that the children enjoy attending. However, the prevailing opinion is that intellectual, theoretical subjects are more important, so that while many like to send their children to the Waldorf School while they are young they think that in the upper classes too much time is spent on artistic subjects.
Classes cater for a range of ages
Outside Reykjavik and its environs the number of pupils in rural schools is often very small so that in about half of all Iceland’s schools several groups of children are taught in the same classroom by a single teacher. Of about 200 schools, almost half have fewer than 100 pupils, so it is not surprising that the two Waldorf Schools are also very small.
The primary school period covers 10 years. Thereafter youngsters can attend secondary education leading to the possibility of university entrance.
Iceland Kindergarten a “home from home”
Kindergartens cater for the reality of life in Iceland, i.e. the long hours worked by parents. Most children are looked after for eight hours every day, which makes kindergarten the children’s “home from home”. Waldorf Kindergartens are strongly supported by the public and arouse much interest.
Children also regularly spend 7-8 hours a day at the Waldorf Schools. Efforts are made to balance what is done in the morning with what goes on in the afternoon and to adapt the school rhythm to parents’ needs. Lessons begin at 9 in the morning and end at 3 in the afternoon. To create a balanced weekly structure, Wednesdays are used for excursions and lessons in the open air. The public requirement is for 27 lessons per week. The Waldorf Schools provide a rich variety of artistic activities over and above this. Icelandic schools teach for nine months of the year. The Waldorf Schools are open for two months in the summer holidays for pupils who want to work at projects or do artistic activities under the guidance of their teachers.
Lively discussion on cultural policy is at present going on in Iceland. Pressure to succeed is increasing in mainstream schools as arts and crafts have to make way for scientific subjects. The intellectual side of learning is over-emphasized while creative thinking, emotions and physical awareness are falling into neglect. Waldorf Schools are today the only alternative method in Iceland’s education system. At a time when technology is gaining precedence in schools, the holistic approach of Waldorf Education provides a necessary complement to received thinking.
KERSTIN ANDERSSON UND
Teaches Swedish and English.
Class teacher at the Sólstafir Waldorf School.