(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 92-93, Note the Copyright!)
Latvia has been free of Soviet domination since 1991, and much has changed meanwhile. The country is on its way to integration in the European Union. New ways are being sought in the field of education, but 50 years of socialist education cannot so easily be transformed into an education that allows for the free unfolding of the child’s personality. Education is still dominated by the idea that subject matter and achievement are the basis on which useful citizens are created for the good of the national community. Value is still attached to Lenin’s slogan that trust is good, but control is better.
There are now four Waldorf Schools in Latvia, but their establishment and existence is still subject to constant controls as to their compatibility with the norms in force for state schools. However, the Latvian authorities and media are gradually overcoming their reservations and mistrust of the education, especially since the Prime Minister and some of his closest colleagues now send their children to Waldorf Schools and kindergartens. Indeed, the former President, Guntis Ulmanis, has written “that the popularity of Waldorf Education in Latvia is growing and that the ideas have won the hearts of many teachers and students because this method gives young people a real opportunity to develop freely”.
Founders of Latvia’s Waldorf Schools
The founders of the Waldorf School in Riga were Mara Priede, an experienced teacher who had completed the first course at Riga’s Waldorf teachers’ seminar, and Mara Svilane, aged 21, who had just returned from attending the teacher training seminar at Kiel, Germany, and succeeded in winning the enthusiasm of 60-70 parents for an experiment with this education. Lessons began in September 1993 for two classes in Riga and three at Adazi. The school at Grobina on the western coast had already opened in 1992.
Whereas the schools in Riga and Grobina are organized as state schools, the one at Adazi is an independent school without any subsidy from the state. The education authorities and Ministry for Education strongly support the Waldorf School in Riga, even to the extent of including its building works in the city’s budget. This appears to be acceptance founded on experience. In 1995 a further small school opened its doors at Lizdeni in the northern part of the country. The new clay brick building erected for this school made headlines because it brought back to life a building tradition that had been forgotten during the socialist period. There is a kindergarten attached to each of the four schools.
Necessary dependence on the state
Waldorf Schools in Latvia are finding it difficult to be really free in applying the curriculum firstly because of their financial dependence on the state and secondly owing to a lack of qualified teachers. Another considerable problem is the lack of effort by parents to become seriously involved in their children’s education. Many children come from highly unsatisfactory home backgrounds.
At present some basics of Waldorf Education are being taught at teacher training colleges under the heading of “alternative education”. This education is considered not so much as having future potential for bringing up young people to be independent, but rather as a means of alleviating the current stressful atmosphere in state schools. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the Waldorf Schools in Latvia will be able to provide a satisfactory solution to this contemporary problem so that the education will find its place within the Latvian education system.
Waldorf curative education and social therapy
Much is done in Latvia for the rehabilitation and integration of developmentally challenged or sick children. (This field of work is termed “defectology” here.) The country has more types of special school than Germany. Generally the schools are attached to hospitals, or they are boarding schools where the children are cared for medically, psychologically and educationally away from their own home.
One such special boarding school is Stikli in the northern part of Kurland. It cares for 150 children who are environmentally damaged or have learning difficulties. In 1992 the Ministry for Education and the staff at the school expressed the wish for this special boarding school to be turned into an integrative Waldorf home school. Over several years seminars in curative education on the basis of anthroposophy were held, and several colleagues spent one to two years as guests at German establishments. Meanwhile a number of classes have been functioning on the basis of Waldorf Education, but for various reasons a full transition to a home school on this basis has so far not come about. One reason is that most of the children do not enter the home until they are about 10 after coming to grief several times both socially and in their lack of ability to learn in mainstream schools. Another is that the idea of integrative education of children with and without learning difficulties is not liked either by parents who teach at the school or by people from the surrounding villages. Finally, it has been impossible to find young teachers willing to live and work among the isolated forests, marshes and lakes of Kurland.
Serious difficulties for special needs adults
The fate of disabled young people who have finished their mandatory schooling is still utterly unsatisfactory. There are no establishments that care for adults in need of special care. Instead the threat of unemployment, poverty, neglect and dependence on alcohol and drugs hangs over their heads. So far the state has created no legal or financial foundations for an integration of these young people into society; they are the victims of the general neglect and poverty plaguing the whole country.
The year 1998 saw some initial efforts towards the social integration of special needs young people on the basis of anthroposophical social therapy.
First and foremost is the “Saulespuke” (sunflower) Initiative. Two young teachers who studied anthroposophical curative education in St Petersburg are looking after a group of unemployed school-leavers from special schools aged 16 to 21. With the help of friends from Sweden and Germany an old farmhouse with 30 ha of woodland and arable land has been purchased. The young people live and work here, renovating the house, cultivating the garden and caring for the domestic animals. A school building has been acquired in nearby Tukums. It is in good condition and provides premises for workshops and more living accommodation.
Although the young people are assured of the local authorities’ recognition and appreciation, virtually no financial help from the town or the relevant ministries is forthcoming. The Saulespuke Initiative has meanwhile been recognized as a model set-up for the care of vulnerable youngsters and it is only to be hoped that the state will come to realize that integration of this kind is more meaningful and also cheaper than “care” in prisons or psychiatric units. Great hopes are now pinned on the development of a Camphill home near Lizdeni in the northern part of the country. Several young adults with special needs are already involved in organic agriculture there, and it could prove a promising beginning in a wonderfully spacious and light-filled landscape.
HANS FRIEDBERT JAENICKE
Waldorf teacher since 1993. Publisher of an anthroposophical journal.
Hans Friedbert Jaenicke
Lower school teacher. Waldorf special school teacher. Teacher training in Brazil, Argentina, Peru and the Baltic states.