(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 134-135, Note the Copyright!)
As when a small spark lights a fire, Waldorf Education in Thailand was inaugurated by a little group of people concerned about the education of the country’s children. In the 1990s Ingrid Liebig-Hundius, an expatriate German, told some Thai teachers about the education and suggested to Abhisiree Chanranjavanaphet, director of the Baan Rak Kindergarten in Bangkok, that she might like to visit some Waldorf Kindergartens in Europe. This is how the education came to be known to an initially very small public.
But it was not until Janpen and Dr Porn Panosot MD returned to their country after studying Waldorf Education at Sunbridge College, USA, that it was finally able to take root in Buddhist Thailand. They had been concerned about the distress of deprived children and had begun to look for a kind of education that might hopefully bring them a better future when they happened to meet Ingrid Hundius and Abhisiree Chanranjavanaphet. Without much ado they decided to turn their backs on everything else and set off for Sunbridge College. After their return they put on lectures on Waldorf Education and introduced artistic activities for children which turned out to be very popular. Every Saturday they gave artistic courses in a large municipal orphanage which continue to this day.
Panyotai: Awakening Wisdom
The first Waldorf School in Thailand, the Panyotai School, was founded in 1996. Some friends rented a house in a quiet district which they refurbished suitably. In its first six years this school grew from three children in the kindergarten and four in Class 1 to a school with 60 pupils. With its 10 teachers and a number of parents it has proved that people can work together selflessly to educate their children. The devotion of the teachers convinced the parents of the Panyotai School that Waldorf Education can enrich the lives of their children.
The general public were able to learn more about the education through two large conferences and the exhibition “Waldorf Education” put on by the Friends of Waldorf Education in 1996 at the Chulalongkorn University of Bangkok and the University of Chiang Mai.
The first students finish their teacher training in Bangkok
To train more Thai teachers the Ratayakom Centre for Anthroposophical Studies (The Path) started a part-time course on Waldorf Education in 1999 based on the wisdom of the East and on anthroposophy. Five of the 40 participants finished this course in 2001. Meanwhile Abhisiree Chanranjavanaphet has transformed the Baan Rak (House of Love) Kindergarten into a Waldorf Kindergarten with over 100 children. Baan Rak also holds seminars and discussion circles with experienced teachers from abroad.
In 1999 the Traidhaksa (Three Abilities) School was founded by Usa and Peerapong Thanompongpan. Although they are very successful in politics and commerce, this couple are working for an improvement of Thailand’s education system and regard Waldorf Education as one way of doing this. One of the teachers at the Traidhaksa School is already a trained Waldorf teacher, so it is hoped that this venture will be crowned with success.
Times are changing
A new education law was passed in the year 2000 which allows for more leeway for alternative education projects. Two paragraphs of this law describe as challenges for our time: the full unfolding of every individual’s personality and an allembracing and balanced education for all. These paragraphs are the result of work of the Network for Freedom in Education in which Panyotai was the driving force. Now work must begin to realize these beautiful ideals. Another advantage of this law is the introduction of a twelve-year education for all children free of charge. This means that Waldorf Schools, too, can receive subsidies from the state. But if the state is paying, the challenge will be to find the right balance between state control and freedom of method. Whatever happens, the education will have to prove the high quality of its work in Thailand because at present the goal is to bring in a standardized education for all.
Breathing new life into old wisdom
A great deal of research was needed in order to bring a specifically Thai version of Waldorf Education into being. Studies were made of Buddhism as the country’s main religion and of traditional attitudes and cultures. The two main festivals - Songkran: the New Year Festival and Loy Kratong: the Festival of Floating Lanterns – have been integrated in the school backed by new understanding. Buddhist and Chinese festivals, the two main cultural influences to put their stamp on the country, are celebrated in the kindergarten throughout the year.
Little known but carefully studied Thai fairy tales are told in Class 1. They are imbued by the same qualities as fairy tales in the West. The tales of Arahats, a Buddhist monk who received illumination, are told in Class 2. The sufferings of Kuan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy provide exciting stories for eight-year-olds. And the story of the Eight Immortals or that of the Chinese Monkey God can make a strong impression on children if well told. In Class 3 the children build a bamboo hut in the house-building main lesson and plant and harvest rice. Thai folk-tales and legends are treated in Class 4’s local history and geography lessons. Class 5 pupils are inspired by the great Indian epics such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and also stories about great Chinese thinkers such as Confucius. Whereas in Europe children in Class 6 hear about the Romans, in Thailand they are told the history of the great ruler of the Chin Dynasty who united the gigantic Chinese realm under his sway. Although Thai children pass through the same phases as children all over the world as their consciousness develops there are one or two slight differences. For this reason the flute is not introduced until Class 3 or 4. Western instruments are added in Class 5. In handwork lessons weaving is done with bamboo leaves, and in modelling with clay or working with wood or leather the decorations hark back to ancient Thai craft traditions. English and Chinese are taught from Class 1 as they nicely balance the very refined Thai language.
Although there are many obstacles in the laws and regulations still to be overcome, Waldorf Education in Thailand can look to a bright future. The only question is whether it will be able to keep its promise to bring in the highest quality.
Class teacher. Participates in Waldorf teacher training in Thailand.