(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 112-113, Note the Copyright!)
To the West the Ukraine is bordered by the magnificent Carpathians while the waves of the Black Sea wash its southern shores. Thick forests protect it to the North while the never-ending golden Steppe stretches away to the East. Among rolling hills and ancient towns runs the Rhine of the Ukraine, the Dnieper river, revered as a god. Ukrainian history ebbed and flowed along its banks. The people who lived here spoke with trees and held the forces of nature in check. On the banks of the Dnieper, in Kiev, the whole nation was christened. Thus were the Rus of Kiev christianized in the year 988.
Even today the Ukraine is alive with a pagan reverence for the earth and water of its natural environment. But what is known about the Ukraine in the wider world? Not, for sure, all its mysterious fairy tales and legends, not its ancient sagas of princes nor its melancholy songs. Ukrainians used to believe that an enchanted maiden lived in the holy marsh elder bush and that the bitter red berries contained her blood. Most people are unaware that the Ukraine has its own language and literature. So what immediately springs to mind at the mention of the Ukraine? Chernobyl, a one-and-a-half hour drive from Kiev, site of what has thus far been the greatest technological catastrophe in history.
The impulse to found a Waldorf School in the Ukraine came about during 1991/92 when a number of teachers from Odessa completed their studies at the Periodic Seminar in Moscow. Two of these were Narine Maltseva and Olga Bodelan who now run the two schools in Odessa, Stupeni and ASTR. Apart from the role played by teachers and lecturers, that of the parents must not be forgotten. When there was as yet no alternative to state schools they wanted and fought for a Waldorf School for their children. The path to be followed before the new schools could be recognized was complex. There were no independent schools at all, and Waldorf Education was so fundamentally different from that in ordinary state schools that a good many difficulties had to be overcome before the schools could be registered and licensed and their curriculum agreed.
By 2001 the two Waldorf Schools, ASTR and Stupeni, had been built up to Class 8. Pupils from the ASTR school attended Classes 9 to 11 at a lyceum that had been founded in connection with the Waldorf School. The Stupeni school has been working to build its own upper school since 1998. The number of so-called “problem children” in the schools is growing. Developmental problems even manifest in Class 1. The Stupeni school has therefore opened two special needs classes. Since 1993 other Waldorf initiatives have also sprung up. These have come together to form the Association of Ukrainian Waldorf Schools. This association also concerns itself with further training. By 2001 there were six different Waldorf seminars and one curative education seminar in the Ukraine.
The Waldorf School here was founded in 1995. There was also a call locally for teacher training, so it was possible to found a Waldorf teacher training seminar as well. The Waldorf School at Dnepropetrovsk is financed by the state. It is regarded as the optimal form of integration between Waldorf Education and the general education system. The main advantages are the fact that it is supported by the Ministry for Education and that, unlike in other private schools, a symbolic amount is contributed towards school fees. A comparably favourable relationship between school and Ministry has not come about elsewhere, which is why private schools on the whole tend to think that complete independence from the state is better. Since 1996 there has been a second Waldorf School in Dnepropetrovsk, on the left bank of the Dnieper, which also receives support from the state. There are two kindergartens, each with two groups.
The first Waldorf School in Kiev opened after a long period of preparation. Now there is the Sophia School on the left bank of the Dnieper, with three classes and three kindergarten groups, and the Michail School on the right bank with two classes and two kindergarten groups.
The School of Free Development opened its doors in Kharkov on 1 September 1998. It is unusual in that it has close links with scientific and academic education. Joint research projects are carried out with professors from the Faculty for Education and Psychology, the Academy of Sciences, the Centre for Humanism and the Training School for Engineers. Representatives of the Waldorf School also carry on a lively dialogue with the public. Recently the first doctoral thesis on “Waldorf Education in the Ukraine” was published by Elena Ionova who now manages the Waldorf School.
Two more schools and kindergartens also exist: in Krivoi Rog since 1995 linked with a state school, and in Gorodenko, in western Ukraine. These are still struggling financially.
Achieving recognition for Waldorf Education
In the year 2000, after discussions between the Association and the college of teachers, the Stupeni School approached the Psychology Department of the Odessa Institute for Teacher Further Training with the request to carry out a psychological study of how well Waldorf pupils learn. A comparative study of this nature was needed because both the public and the education profession were questioning the level of achievement in Waldorf Schools. The results of this research showed that the educational achievements of Waldorf pupils equalled that of pupils in state schools, while their developmental progress was well above average. Similar studies have also been undertaken in other towns. The results of these studies and the above-mentioned doctoral thesis document that Waldorf pupils are well in advance of state school pupils in their humanism, sociability, diligence, interest in learning and love of what is beautiful. The Association is now therefore endeavouring to have Waldorf Education integrated and officially registered in the Ukrainian education system as an alternative education system.
Difficulties and special characteristics of Waldorf Education in the Ukraine
One of the difficulties facing Waldorf Education here is the mentality of Ukrainian children which colleagues from the West often fail to understand or take into account until they have got to know life in our schools better. Children in the West experience the relatively “peaceful” rhythm of an ordered life shaped by civilization. Ukrainian children, by contrast, have no rhythms at all in their lives. The difficult economic circumstances of their parents, lack of knowing what the next day will bring, and the instability of public order lead to concentration problems, unruly behaviour and discipline problems. In the Soviet era such things were dealt with by force and punishment. Since such measures are unthinkable in Waldorf Education, teachers have to find other ways of directing the children’s concentration and attention towards the content of their lessons.
One question that must constantly be asked is: How can we create a school that is not cut off from real life? How can the “oasis” of the Waldorf School help to develop individuals who are socially active? How can we awaken in the children the most important quality of all, namely interest in life?
Legalizing the curriculum, creating on-going Waldorf teacher training seminars, carrying out and publishing research in collaboration with scientific institutions, all this will help establish Waldorf Education in the Ukraine.
Class teacher, tutor in Waldorf Education, chairwoman of the Association for Waldorf Education in the Ukraine.