(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 196-199, Note the Copyright!)
Lebanon - Pakistan - Tajikistan - South Korea - Hong Kong - China - Singapur
Dr Wali Mehej and his wife Waltraud have been working in Lebanon since 1974 to build up curative initiatives and biodynamic farming. They have founded the First Step Together Association (FISTA) which cared for children and youngsters with physical and learning difficulties even during the civil war.
In Beirut there is now a Waldorf Kindergarten and also a crèche for problem children aged from 0 to 6 where their problems can be treated early and their speech and motor abilities improved. In Jal-el-Deeb, a district of Beirut, there is a Waldorf School for children and youngsters with mild learning difficulties where they can progress from playing to learning while their imagination is stimulated and their need to be active can be given proper guidance.
The lessons are based on the Lebanese curriculum which is augmented by many practical courses such as cooking, woodwork, needlework, music, drama, drawing and sport. There are 6 pupils in each class, ranging from the lower through to the upper school. A graduating class schools the pupils specifically for their working life. In Kaldeh, another district of the city, there is a curative school for severely disabled children and young people.
After many years of training work, the curative education initiative Roshni opened in 2001 in Lahore, a city with a population of 15 million, when the husband and wife team Hannesen-Perveen opened the doors of a rented house to the first few young people with learning difficulties. In September of that year a bio-bakery, a wood workshop and a textile workshop began to offer training places to the youngsters. They are former pupils from the Amin Maktab School run by the Pakistan Society for the Welfare of Disabled Children, which is Roshni’s partner school.
Waldorf Education can even be found in Chudyand, the second-largest city in Tajikistan on the banks of the Syr-Darya River. Two teachers are now studying in Moscow and three German teachers in Stuttgart. They are preparing to open a school in this country which has been so plagued by civil war and terrorist attacks.
After an ice age of almost 50 years President Kim of South Korea paid an historical visit to President Kim Jong II of North Korea in the year 2000. His plane landed in Pyöngyang but as he paused on the little platform at the top of the steps he did not look towards the huge crowd waiting to greet him. For a long, still moment he gazed sideways to the distant, holy mountains. In that silent moment, as he inwardly greeted the mountains that all Koreans have forever regarded as holy, he expressed the deepest feelings of a whole nation. That visit brought an important breakthrough in South Korea’s tragic relationship with North Korea, and the subsequent award of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Kim Dae Jung can give us courage and hope. South Korea is at present in a difficult economic situation caused by a gigantic restructuring process necessitated by the debt repayment measures which the IMF introduced three years ago.
South Korea’s state education system is causing so much concern and dissatisfaction among the population that the Ministry for Education is now in the process of introducing changes. This is opening up prospects for Waldorf Education which was introduced to a wider public for the first time in 1995. After preparation by Young Rok Hoh, professor of architecture, the Friends of Waldorf Education mounted their exhibition on Waldorf Education in Seoul which was accompanied by seminars on the education.
The Association for Waldorf Education was founded in 1997. Its members, teachers, parents and others interested, meet monthly for weekend conferences which sometimes include guest speakers from around the world. A part-time teacher training seminar runs two sessions a year for 2 to 3 weeks at a time. A Waldorf Kindergarten has also been opened and two kindergarten teachers are at present being re-trained. The Centre for Anthroposophy was founded in Seoul in 1999. Here courses on Waldorf Education are held and work is being done in preparation for another kindergarten and a school.
The media, both TV and press, have contributed to bringing Waldorf Education to the attention of the public. This has resulted from the present great need for alternative education models.
Hong Kong is a fast-living, crazy city with no rhythm. Children have to take an exam at three in order to get into a kindergarten, so they live under pressure to perform from their earliest child-hood. Education policy is planned by the Human Resources Department. The efficacy of its curricula is monitored statistically, and the Ministry places most emphasis on the development of new technologies and the teaching of the Chinese language.
Private schools have to finance themselves and are therefore expensive and available only to an elite. The main problems children face in Hong Kong are criminal activity, suicide and the loss of moral values.
The Waldorf School Foundation in Hong Kong began to offer courses on Waldorf Education in December 1997. A group of about 10 individuals interested in the education and in anthroposophy met weekly to plan events. Hans Mulder and Sue Simpson from New Zealand gave introductory lectures on Waldorf Education in April and November 1998. The Waldorf School Foundation in Hong Kong is working on providing a more in-depth under-standing of the education and plans to open a kindergarten. In preparation for this a play group has been started where children and parents have the opportunity to get to know Waldorf Education.
Rural culture and modern civilization are in constant collision in China. The education system is financed by the state and schooling is compulsory from Class 1 to Class 9. The lower school covers Classes 1 to 6, the middle school Classes 7 to 9 and the upper school Classes 10 to 12. The upper school provides entrance to further education. A normal school day consists of classes until 4 p.m. followed by a period when homework is done. Teachers’ pay depends on how well their pupils perform in the twice-yearly multiple choice tests. (Examinations have been a part of Chinese tradition for centuries.) Around 20 million teachers are involved.
There are many schools in China which try to reach and even exceed the standard of the state exams in order to attract pupils. The one-child policy means that many parents choose a private school because want their one and only child to have the very best opportunities for professional success. For the last two years or so it appears to have become possible for private schools to do without the exams, and this would ease the route to founding a Waldorf School.
Harry Wong of Sunbridge College, USA, a trained Waldorf teacher, and his wife Lilly, a trained Waldorf Kindergarten teacher, are planning to open a kindergarten in China. At present Harry Wong is working in Chengdu with the Holy Love Foundation which takes care of disabled children and helps them acquire some training. There is a special needs education establishment in Nanning the head of which is concerned to establish anthroposophical curative education.
The anthroposophical movement found its way to Singapore through the trade in biodynamic foods. John Yeo and his business partner started to sell biodynamic products in 1995. John Yeo was acquainted with Peter Proctor, who lectures on biodynamic agriculture. John was looking for a curative establishment for his daughter who is autistic. That was in 1996. A visit to the curative home at Hohepa, New Zealand, gave him ideas as to how a similar establishment might be set up in Singapore, although so far the matter has not gone beyond the discussion stage.
Dr Chiu-Nan Lai, a cancer researcher in the USA, spoke about Waldorf Education in October 1994 during an open forum on holistic health. Before an audience of 18,000 in Singapore’s Indoor Stadium she described Waldorf Education as an example of holistic education. Around 1998 three independent Waldorf initiatives came into being led by Joyce Low, John and Rita Dickens, and Anna Guillen. They joined forces with Betty Khoo-Kingsley and John Yeo as the founding group. Out of this, also in 1998, arose the Steiner Interest Group which is an informal group for parents, teachers and other interested adults. Visits by people such as Hans Mulder, Renate Breipohl and Tine Bruinsma enabled lectures to go ahead in 1999 and 2000. In 2000 Harry Wong held a seminar in Mandarin, thus reaching the Chinese-speaking population.
Lessons for the first class of the Waldorf School Project began on 5 January 2000 in premises supplied by involved parents. Owing to many problems this project, led by Kay Diaz, only lasted for a year. The school activities were then passed on to Kampung Senang, a foundation set up by Joyce and James Low. At present these take the form of an artistic part-time programme for children between 6 and 8.
At the request of John Dickens, Margarete and Ingo Lange came to Singapore to begin work in February 2000 in the first Waldorf Kindergarten, once again in premises provided by involved parents. The private premises and varied expectations soon began to affect growth, and when some parents decided to move abroad the kindergarten was closed in September 2000. On their own initiative, and with helpful support from Joyce and James Low, Margarete and Ingo Lange then opened a new kindergarten group in December 2000 in Kampung Senang. This proved to be the turning point for the kindergarten where a second group opened in March 2001.
Waldorf initiatives face many challenges in Singapore. Foremost is the government’s strong influence on the education system which seeks to form the individual in accordance with the “core contents” of national principles. The resolution to make state education obligatory for the first six years, which will come into force in 2003, will force parents who want an alternative system for their children to present a curriculum for inspection by the state. Many will shy away from doing this, fearing that they might attract disapproval. Parents also fear that the Waldorf method will not prepare their children sufficiently for the state examinations. Exams here are normal not only in the kindergarten years but throughout the period of schooling.
Some optimism is justified because about 2000 children have obtained places in an experimental government kindergarten programme which is non-academic and directed towards free play and creativity. Perhaps it is wishful thinking, but let us hope that this, in addition to the existing initiatives, will provide a small spark of hope for the Waldorf impulse in Singapore.