(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 102-103, Note the Copyright!)
With its mountains and green hills Slovenia is regarded as the Switzerland of the Balkans. Even when it was a part of Yugoslavia it always set an example, being highly developed industrially and boasting the best standard of living and the lowest rate of unemployment. Even before its secession in 1991 some Slovenians availed themselves of opportunities to study Waldorf Education abroad. It was they who later founded the first Waldorf School in the country. Still under the Communist regime Samo and Claudia Simcic opened the first Waldorf Kindergarten in 1989. Although private initiatives were neither supported nor encouraged under Communism, nevertheless it was obvious that times were changing.
Support by the state
Slovenia’s declaration of independence in the summer of 1991 provided clear proof that democratic forces were developing in all fields of society, not least that of education. New laws were drawn up and new ideas propagated. Some individuals spoke openly for new beginnings in education and worked towards this. Thus Branka Strmole of the Slovenian Institute for Education which advised the Ministry for Education and Sport was commissioned to found a Waldorf School in Ljubljana in 1992 since it had become obvious that parents wanted this. As there had never been any independent schools in Slovenia before, collaboration with the state education authorities was imperative. The Waldorf initiative also received support from the European Forum for Freedom in Education (EFFE)1 which ran a conference in Slovenia in 1992. In the autumn of 1991 a group of 15 Slovenian teachers had attended a part-time seminar on Waldorf Education organized by the Wien-Mauer Waldorf School (Austria). As the first in Slovenia, the Ljubljana Waldorf School received much attention which expressed itself in support but also in doubts.
Lack of space
The new Waldorf School was given four classrooms in a state school with which it had to share the cafeteria and assembly hall. The first two classes totalling 56 children were taught by 4 teachers. Administration was run by parents and teachers who firmly believed that the school would expand. The space was sufficient in the first year, but in the second year the state school also took in the newly-founded International School, a government project, and thus the Waldorf School became second in importance. Ever since then the matter of space has been the primary worry. Since the school grew by one class each year, the teachers’ room had to be used too, which meant that the teachers had to share a space of 20 square metres with the school secretary, which made life very difficult. Imagine only one example of the secretary having to take phone calls while a teacher practised anew song on his flute! Craft lessons had to take place in the corridor.
With the approach of the 1997/98 school year it became obvious that no more rooms would be made available by the state school, so after long negotiations with the authorities permission was given to use some more classrooms in a nearby primary school. This split across two buildings was painful and also difficult to organize, but the Waldorf School survived once again.
Much freedom for independent schools
Apart from struggling with the problem of space the Waldorf School also had to fight for recognition. It had been founded before Slovenia had developed laws governing independent schools, so it was important for the Waldorf teachers to fight not only for enough freedom for the Waldorf School but also for other independent schools. These efforts ended in success. Independent schools not only receive support from the state but they also enjoy full freedom to develop their own curriculum. The Waldorf School can employ teachers who do not possess the state teaching diploma. And independent schools receive 85% of what state schools are given for running costs and teachers’ salaries. Pupils have to take an external exam after Class 8, but unlike comparable age groups in state schools they do not have to sit exams after Class 3 and Class 6.
The Waldorf teachers in Slovenia have pushed hard to have democratic principles incorporated in the education system. In addition they have worked to help children with special needs of whom several have been integrated in the classes of the Waldorf School.
A plot of land awaiting a building
Unfortunately the Waldorf School is unlikely to receive any subsidies for a new school building, but after negotiating for three years with the city authorities in Ljubljana it has succeeded in being granted a plot of land. The Friends of Waldorf Education have arranged for the Waldorf School in Düsseldorf, Germany, to let us have some prefabricated buildings to house Classes 5 to 11.
The Waldorf impulse is not confined to Ljubljana, for in the school year 2001/02 another school will open in Maribor. There is already a kindergarten with 18 children and a Teacher Training Seminar organized with the help of the Waldorf School in Graz, Austria.
As pioneers of independent education, Waldorf teachers in Slovenia still face many tasks. They want to show the public that there is more than one way of educating children and that different people consider different things important in their lives.
BRANKA STRMOLE UKMAR
1 Das Europäische Forum für Freiheit im Bildungswesen ist ein Zusammenschluss von Europäern aus 32 Ländern, die sich für den rechtlichen und wirtschaftlichen Freiraum für Schulen sowie die damit zusammenhängenden pädagogischen Fragestellungen einsetzen.
Branka Strmole Ukmar
The European Forum for Freedom in Education comprises Europeans from 32 countries working to achieve legal and economic freedom for schools and the educational questions this poses.