(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 130-131, Note the Copyright!)
Kathmandu’s first Waldorf Kindergarten opened its doors in June 2000. With the help of teachers and parents an old carpet factory had been renovated to house Tashi Waldorf School’s two groups. A third group came in June 2001.
A pioneer from Israel
The founding impulse came from Meyrav Mor from Israel who had trained as a Waldorf Kindergarten teacher in the USA. Driven to help disadvantaged children in Nepal she had initially worked for four years in an orphanage. Alongside this she had founded a kindergarten teachers’ seminar where she trained Nepalese women.
Many Nepalese parents abandon their children. With 90% of the population living in poverty, parents often find themselves unable to cope with or provide for their children. Through her experience on the ground, Meyrav identified a number of key problems. Firstly there was little or no support available to struggling parents to help them keep their children; secondly the concepts of early childhood education were very much in their infancy in both government and private schools. The need for training in early childhood education and increased parental participation in their children’s schooling was clearly evident.
The courage to educate their own children
From this basis, Meyrav decided to work with children at risk who were living within their families and to create a school which encouraged parental participation. Thus parents can maintain their sense of responsibility for their children and receive support and advice. Tashi Waldorf School has from the beginning been very aware of each child’s family situation and has actively engaged parents in a craft group and held on-going meetings both to explain Waldorf Education and to address queries and concerns parents may have. Parents are also invited to attend the teacher training programmes run at the school. Families contribute to the school according to their means. By contributing financially or through volunteering their time, parents maintain a strong connection with and responsibility for their child’s education.
To create a sense of inclusion and equality, children from a variety of social, economic and cultural backgrounds are admitted to the school. This is of particular importance in Nepal as there are many barriers between people due to caste and social class. Through mixing children at a young age in the classroom social prejudice and discrimination can be addressed at the very point where they begin.
Central to the Kindergarten and teacher training programmes was the development of a programme that was in harmony with Nepalese cultures and traditions. Meyrav developed a working model of an integrated curriculum based on Waldorf Education and blended with the culture of the Himalayas. She has now documented this in a series of three training manuals entitled “Fire in the Heart”. Part 1 outlines the cultural, educational, arts and religious aspects in Nepal and describes how these can be blended into the teacher training programme. Part 2 covers the early childhood curriculum in depth, and Part 3 is a source book in Nepalese for teachers including Nepalese songs, arts and crafts, and stories for young children.
Cultivating cultural roots
Many of Nepal’s traditional arts are disappearing. Recognizing that a people’s connection to their language, culture and traditions is central to their positive self-image in a rapidly modernizing world, Meyrav has integrated these in her Waldorf Education manuals. As arts, crafts and movement are so central to Waldorf Education, exploring and sharing the “western” Waldorf arts and eastern traditional Nepalese arts can become a point of building a mutual understanding and exchange between East and West. It is imperative to develop ways of communicating and sharing between cultures which are respectful to both sides. The central idea is to bring progress through education without breaking cultural and religious ties.
A multi-cultural society
There are many different cultural groups in Nepal, including Hindus, Tibetans, Newari, and Hill Tribe peoples. These people came as immigrants from the South and across the Himalayas from the North. Nepal became a meeting ground for Indo-Aryan and Oriental peoples who lived peacefully together for centuries while also maintaining their own traditions. Consequently Nepal has a rich and varied cultural heritage with many different languages, traditions and festivals. The main religions are Buddhism, Hinduism and Shamanism. The curriculum mirrors this variety. In the kindergarten the teachers celebrate the festivals of different ethnic groups. On the nature table1 there are Hindu and Buddhist statues to symbolize the acceptance of both religions.
Working with traditional stories and verses gives the children a positive sense of their culture in a modern context. In this way Waldorf Education becomes a tool to bridge the transition between the traditional and modern worlds with minimum negative impact. Even the school’s menu embraces Nepalese diversity with traditional Tibetan, Nepalese and Indian dishes. The children can therefore experience the variety that characterizes their country and develop a positive sense of what it is to be Nepalese. The kindness and support which has been offered to the school by its sister schools and other Waldorf groups around the world gives both staff and children a positive perception of the world beyond Nepal.
Allowing the heart to speak
When asked about Waldorf Education Chandra, one of the kindergarten teachers, said: “In a Waldorf School the children are allowed to act with their will and their feeling. They are free to express themselves with their heart. In this freedom they learn with confidence and ability. All human beings need this freedom. The children grow at their own pace, without pressure or stress.”
Pressure to succeed versus freedom to play
The current educational climate in Nepal favours intensive hot-housing methods particularly in the early years. The idea that a child’s future success depends on his or her academic progress in kindergarten is strongly pushed. This arose partly because when the government introduced pre-schools there was no appropriate curriculum, so teachers used the grade one curriculum. From the age of three children receive homework and face exams. There is no time for play or creative activities. Traditional teaching methods and rote learning predominate. But interest in early childhood education is beginning to grow within the educational fraternity. Parents are also beginning to see that pushing and pressurizing pre-school age children can lead to problems later as primary school children become “burnt-out” and lose their love of learning.
The time is ripe to sow a Waldorf seed! And a teacher training programme is the most appropriate vehicle. So the Tashi Waldorf School offers a part-time training course which is also attended by teachers from traditional kindergartens. In this way concepts of early childhood development and the importance of play can be shared with as wide an audience as possible. Waldorf Education is beginning to grow strong roots in Nepal.
1 An element of Waldorf Kindergarten practice by which the children learn to experience the seasons and festivals through the year.
Primary school teacher. Fundraising and publicity work for the Tashi Waldorf School in Kathmandu.