"You might realize that even if the principles of Waldorf education arose in one specific country, they do not have anything to do with some kind of nationalism, but with internationalism in the best sense, as they search for the universally human quality in all of us. We do not want to educate people who belong to a particular class, nation or profession, but people with the broadest, most heartfelt human interests." Rudolf Steiner, 17.8.1923, GA 307, p. 245.
What is Waldorf Education?
The educational approach founded by Rudolf Steiner in 1919 is consistent in its commitment to the development and individuality of the child. As an „education towards freedom“ its prime intention is to support the child holistically. Qualities such as developing an interest for the world, intellectual thinking, artistic sensibility, manual skills, social ability, strength of will are the best prerequisites to meet the challenges of an ever more globalized world, which relies on the abilities of each individual human being.
An excellent introduction to Waldorf education is our well-illustrated publication "Waldorf Education", which contains 40 contributions from various international authors, aiming to provide a general understanding of some of the main pedagogical aspects.
The Development of Waldorf Education
The Friends of Waldorf Education were founded in 1971 to promote the Waldorf approach and independent education worldwide. Today, the association forwards donations worth four million Euros each year supporting Waldorf and social initiatives in various ways.
At first, Waldorf education spread throughout Europe and North America. In the 1970s and more so in the 1980s schools were founded in South America and Australia. From 1986 onwards the Waldorf movement began developing roots in South Africa before spreading over the entire continent. In the early 1990s Waldorf education developed in Eastern Europe following the fall of the iron curtain. Furthermore initiatives were founded in Asia throughout the decade. Since 2005 there is also a rapidly growing interest in Waldorf education in China.
The Friends contributed significantly to this development providing financial and legal assistance. Whilst there were only 90 Waldorf schools in 20 countries in 1970, today there are more than thousand Waldorf schools in more than 70 countries around the globe.
It would not be true to say that Waldorf schools are shooting out of the ground anywhere in the world. Often Waldorf education stands in stark contrast to what schools normally are and they usually contradict parents’ expectation for „quick success“. Nevertheless ever more parents worldwide are looking for an alternative to the traditional school system characterized by achievement pressure, multiple choice tests and turning pupils into trained bearers of knowledge in an education system that aims to educate without art as either a subject or as an educational approach.
In this respect Waldorf schools are in every country a living example of the true meaning of education and for the possibility of another, a child-oriented education. Waldorf education wants children and young people to grow into world citizens whilst at the same time leading them to an appreciation of the treasures within their own culture.
The intercultural aspect
Understanding of the human nature
The idea that each human being regardless of his social background or religious affiliation is seen as a unique individuality provides the basis for the worldwide Waldorf movement. A liberal view of the human being creates relationships beyong cultural and social boundaries. Therefore, Waldorf schools like the one in Guatemala are a successful example of how people from different social backgrounds can live together. For the same reason Waldorf schools in Israel engage in peace education projects to bring Arab and Jewish children together.
Sharing a common impulse
Waldorf teachers troughout the world experience that they share a common impulse in their educational approach. To foster the international exchange of these educational experiences the World Teacher Conference has been established, which is held every four years. In addition, regional conferences such as the South American and Asian Waldorf teacher conference or the Central Asian teacher training have emerged recently.
In most countries independent and private initiatives receive no government support. Therefore these schools rely on a sense of community, which creates global support and a connection between people with the same goals. The Friends of Waldorf Education not only support this sense of community, but they are also the link between the initiatives around the globe and their financial and intellectual supporters.
School partnerships, volunteering, project trips, WOW Day, international youth conferences
There are many more ways to help. Worldwide many school partnerships exist and can take many different forms, such as for example an exchange programe, or offering legal advice. Each year, the Friends of Waldorf Education provide volunteering opportunities in anthroposophical initiatives around the world to more than 600 young people - many of which are former Waldorf students. In addition to the topics covered in school, higher classes often go on project trips to help with specific construction projects in Eastern Europe. And and increasing number of Waldorf schools participates once a year in a campaign called WOW-Day, Waldorf One World. On this day, students work in small jobs and donate their earnings to enable disadvantaged children worldwide to gain access to education.
An increasing number of families and individuals are supporting a child abroad. Their aim is not only to enable their godchild to attend school, but also to support the respective school. Often an education fund is set up allowing the initiative to improve by expanding its capacity and training teachers. The sponsors are in direct correspondence with their godchild and can follow its development. As a result a long friendship may arise, which often even leads to the sponsor visiting the godchilds country.
In 2006 the field of emergency education became a new area of work for the Friends of Waldorf Education. The program aims to help traumatized children in war zones and disaster affected areas process their dramatic experiences. Since then the Friends have gone on 14 missions in war zones or countries affected by natural disasters.
Each path is unique
Waldorf education is not a rigid model that is imitated without considering the local environment. In anthroposophy, the individual child is at the center of the educational task - hence Waldorf education is always a unique approach. Each teacher structures his lessons according to the needs of his students.
Usually Waldorf initiatives worldwide develop out of local initiatives. It begins with individuals learning about Waldorf education, then telling others about this approach to education, which leads to an initiative of shared interests. This group of people then meets regularly to gain more knowledge before founding a Waldorf kindergarten out of which a school may develop later on.
It is the task of the local people to implement the Waldorf approach under the conditions of their country, their culture and their local environment. In the process many initiatives develop global our country specific questions. What are the connections between the Waldorf approach and the local environment? What global or local topics fit to which age group? What is currently happening in the development of children? How can Waldorf education cater to the needs of the children and their cultural and social environment? Myths and stories, for example - which are told especially in the lower grades – are often taken from the local culture.