There are now over 800 Rudolf Steiner schools around the world. They are well-established in most European countries, North America, Australia and New Zealand, They have been successful pilot schemes tested in Africa, India and most other parts of the world.
The long-term success of this educational movement sets it apart from almost every other attempt at educational reform in the twentieth century,
What were Rudolf Steiner’s beliefs?
Rudolf Steiner believed that education should be designed to meet the changing needs of a child as the child develops physically, mentally and emotionally. He believed that education should help a child to fulfil their full potential but he did not believe in pushing children towards goals that adults or society in general, believed to be desirable. His approach was systematic, and appears to have been based on his own extensive experience of working with children. Here are some of its key points:
Up to the age of seven encourage play, drawing, story telling, being at home, nature study and natural things.
Do not teach children younger than seven to read.
Teach a child to write before you teach them to read.
Do not keep changing a child's teacher: allow one teacher to carry on teaching the same class for seven years.
Allow children to concentrate on one subject at a time - do history two hours per day for several weeks and then do geography for two hours per day etc.
Find links between art and science.
Engage with the child and make sure that they are enthusiastic about the material being covered.
Give a moral lead but do not teach a particular set of beliefs.
Encourage learning for its own sake. Do not just work for exams.
He made specific curriculum suggestions for history, geography, mathematics, languages, literature, science, handwork, gymnastics, painting, music. Obviously, some of these are more appropriate than others to today's conditions.He was very rigorous in ensuring that his beliefs were fulfilled, and modified the work done in the school to ensure that the children had covered the same subject matter, and attained the same skills, as children in other schools at the appropriate ages.
Steiner schools today
The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF) represents 31 Steiner schools, 56 Early Years settings, and six Steiner Teacher training courses in the UK and Ireland.
It is the home of the European Council for Steiner Education bringing together some 550 schools in 20 countries and it is a partner in the Alliance for Childhood. There are over 880 schools, 1500 Early Years settings and 60 Teacher Trainings worldwide
Steiner schools have their own comprehensive and distinctive curriculum and teaching methods for pupils up to 18. This curriculum is still based on a pedagogical philosophy that places emphasis on the whole development of the child. This will include a child's spiritual, physical and moral well-being as well as academic progress.
There is a strong emphasis on social abilities and the development of pre-numeracy and literacy skills. Formal learning begins later, and learning is done in a very creative and artistic environment.
Steiner schools have a long track record of successful outcomes despite a non academic selective admissions policy. Social inclusion is fundamental to the ethos of the schools.
Steiner Education respects the essential nature of childhood and is hence the education is geared to enable each pupil to develop the abilities and confidence needed for life. In pre-school and primary school the education provides a solid foundation of faculties and experiences. These are fundamental for a secure secondary level. At this stage qualities such as emotional maturity, good judgement, creativity and initiative with a strong moral sense of responsibility are cultivated.
The pupils learn about the world, society and themselves in a way with which they can strongly identify. The Steiner curriculum responds to the developmental needs of each pupil. It has proved adaptable over 75 years in many different cultures on all continents. This is because the curriculum is designed to develop faculties rather than merely deliver prescribed information. It is interdisciplinary and comprehensive in outlook.
The pupils enjoy continuity and personal commitment through their Kindergarten teacher during the early years and between the ages of 6 and 14 from their principal teacher as well as the class teacher. From 14-18 they receive the pastoral support of a class guardian. This longer term pupil-teacher relationship enables those responsible to follow and evaluate each child's needs through the important developmental stages of childhood and youth. Teachers are free to choose whatever material is appropriate to each individual situation and to shape and present it in a creative way. This enhances the teacher's sense of commitment and professionalism.
In a fast-changing and uncertain world individuals are increasingly called upon to respond with initiative, flexibility and responsibility. As adults, former Steiner school pupils have proved themselves to be resourceful, creative and equipped to meet the challenges that life presents. They are in many senses world citizens and offer experiences to employers and colleagues.
Individual subjects are developed from the youngest classes up to school- leaving age in an integrated way in accordance with the stages of child development. This helps the pupils through their school career, not only to follow the thematic threads but also to develop their understanding of complex inter-relationships between phenomena. Devoting the first two hours of the day for up to three or four weeks to themes such as the geography of North America, mechanics, trees, money and finance, nutrition or the history of architecture, is economical of teaching technique, helps focus interest and strengthens the memory.
Practical life skills such as crafts, gardening, technology, and work experience on the land and in industry are complemented by a wide range of artistic activities including music, eurhythmy, drama, painting and sculpture. Steiner schools are all self- governing learning communities. The responsibility for educational matters is carried primarily by the teachers who work together in a co-operative way without a head teacher. A council of management comprising parents, teachers and an administrator manages the school's resources. This partnership is committed to a process of working together in the best interests of the pupils. This way of working together not only provides a model for a caring and responsible community in support of the pupils, but is also an effective way of harnessing the gifts of all concerned to the well being of the school.
This alternative form of education appeals to many parents. There are more and more parents today who want more control in, the opportunity to participate in and be involved in their children’s learning processes. Many parents feel that the interference from the government, the pressures to achieve sooner and earlier are detrimental rather that beneficial to their children’s schooling.
Many parents feel that the child should develop as a whole person and that they should be offered the opportunity to develop their strengths with having to compete and be forced into situations which are either detrimental or damaging to their personalities.
Rudolf Steiner schools have been successful over many years and in society today are still popular and provide excellent results for children and parents.