The European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education

Council

Published on July 16th, 2015 | by ECSWE

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Report on the ECSWE Council meeting in Yerevan, April 2015

The ECSWE Council meeting in Yerevan took place at a special moment. That weekend the Armenian genocide that took place exactly 100 years ago, was commemorated. This grief still remains deeply impressed among  the Armenian people.

On Friday morning a conference on the Armenian Genocide in a pedagogical context was held at the Yerevan State University (in collaboration with ECSWE and ‘Aregnazan’ Steiner school of Yerevan).

After the welcome by Dr. Richard Landl, president of ECSWE, historian Dr. Markus Osterrieder placed the Armenian genocide in a historical perspective. This genocide was not a symptom of ‘Oriental morals ‘or motivated by religion;it was the consistent implementation of a modern, ethnic nationalism, based on a ruthless social Darwinism. The Young Turks had studied in Europe. Osterrieder called the Armenian genocide a blueprint for Hitler.

Dr. Gayana Shahverdyan (prof. Social psychology at the University of Yerevan) elaborated on the psychological and traumatic impact of being a victim of such cruel event. In the healing process, the recognition of being victim is very important.

Samvel Martirosyan, teacher and lecturer at the university, spoke about the way the genocide is discussed in secondary education. “We still take this genocide rather personally,” he said. Young children entering school have already heard a lot of stories about it, told by their grandparents. Also the teacher is personally involved (he or she also grew up with this grief). Overcoming the stereotype of the “cruel Turk” is a real challenge for the Armenians.

Finally, Dr. Michael Zech, prof. at the Alanus Hochschule, Germany, spoke about the genocide as a subject in school curriculum from a European perspective. He stressed the importance of an unbiased judgement in history teaching (see Osterrieder). In 1939, Hitler wanted to destroy the Slavic peoples to create ‘Lebensraum’ for the Germans. Again, a social-Darwinian idea of nationalism was carried out to the extreme. Education’s mission is to arouse awareness of the inhumanity of this kind of nationalism. Therefore, we should not isolate the Holocaust as a unique historical fact (cf. Unesco). Is it conceivable than Armenian and Turkish youngsters meet one another and discuss this matter?

Ara Atayan, the Armenian representative in ECSWE, moderated the discussions.

After lunch in the Aregnazan Waldorf School, we travelled with small busses (it started to rain quite heavily) to the State Puppet Theatre, where the students of the school offered us a performance with songs, dance, drama and eurythmy. The program ended with some scenes from Faust, in German.

First session (Friday)

After the welcome to our guest and new representatives, the Aregnazan School presented itself. The teachers present all had a special background and personal history and appeared a very motivated team. The school was founded in 1994 and shares the building with a state school. Until 2005 it was organised as an experimental state school with Waldorf classes. Since 2005, the school is officially recognized as a private school. The school works with an introductory class between kindergarten and first grade. There are 12 classes now with about 300 students. In the first years of primary school, children learn three foreign languages: Armenian, Russian and German. A little detail: each language has a different alphabet (Armenian, Cyrillic and Latin).

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Armenian script, developed in 405 AD by the religious scholar Mesrop Masjtots

Second session (Saturday mornings)

As an artistic activity, we worked hard on very beautiful, but not so easy Armenian polyphonic songs.

The meeting started with a review and discussion of the the previous day’s conference .

What I remember as one of the outcomes: the attention on differences on the cultural level should move to encounters on the individual level.

Third session (Saturday mornings)

This was the continuation of a working session begun in Oslo on the topic of leadership in Waldorf / Steiner Schools.

The participants felt a need to discuss the issue more deeply. Two questions concerning leadership introduced the working sessions:

  1. What common challenges lie before us?
  2. What can ECSWE do with that?

Various suggestions came up. ECSWE could surely play a role in these developments. Within ECSWE a framework for the role of leadership in Waldorf /Steiner Schools can be set up. Training for school leaders could be developed at a European level. Or ECSWE could organise/provide a platform for exchange of experiences and practices?

A small group was appointed to prepare the next steps in this matter, based on the results of the various working groups. Further development will be discusses at the next ECSWE meeting, early October in Bratislava.

Fourth session (Saturday afternoon)

Stefan Grosse gave a country report on Germany (see here).

During the rest of the fourth session, the Annual General Assembly of ECSWE (as an international non-profit association under Belgian law) took place.

The minutes of the previous General Assembly (May 2014 in Cluj, Romania) were approved. The annual report of the Board, the financial report 2014 and the budget for 2015 were presented, discussed and approved.

Then the first draft of an annual questionnaire for the website was presented to the members by Frans Ebskamp, ​​our Dutch representative. This questionnaire should provide ECSWE with the relevant information on its members. The questions concern general information on the member federations, besides data regarding the number and nature of the affiliated schools, data on school, the school career (entry age in kindergarten to graduation age after secondary school), the fundamental differences with mainstream education, pupil numbers etc. And finally, information is asked, if applicable, about the teacher training.

Later in the afternoon we visited the 4th century Echmiadzin Cathedral (original church was built between 301 and 303), the St. Hripsime church from the 7th century and the ruins of the Temple of Angels (Zvartnots), built in the 7th century. Ara Atayan showed himself to be an inspired guide.

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Mount Ararat (Turkey), 5137 meters, view from the ruins of Zvartnots Cathedral

Saturday night there was a dinner at the Mozaic Restaurant, on the 17th floor of a new building in Yerevan, with a view on Mount Ararat. The evening was accompanied by Armenian and Irish music performed by a group of young musicians.

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Fifth session (Sunday morning)

Again, we sang bravely and sometimes we even succeeded in producing music!

The session started with the reports from the advocacy work and the cooperation with the Alliance for Childhood, the Quality of Childhood meetings (QoC) in the European Parliament and  EUCIS-LLL.

In cooperation with EFFE (Gerald Häfner) Georg Jürgens has continued working on lowering the impact of TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). See here.

Sixth session

First Pia Pale reported on the situation in Finland. It wasn’t good news from the country at the top of the PISA ranking. The school funding system is changing and this means in the first place: less money. Perhaps even more dramatic is the fact that the number of pupils in the Steiner/Waldorf upper schools is sharply declining. Voluntary donations from parents are also diminishing. Moreover, the government plans a restructuring of the upper years in secondary education. There are 14 secondary schools in Finland and already one has had to close its doors. Two others schools announced they will close gradually. It is unclear whether other schools will follow. This raises many questions: do we have enough care of the deeper pedagogical impulse? Do our schools still have a strong Waldorf School identity or did it fade away among the multitude of compromises? Are the teachers in the schools strong enough connected to the spiritual impulse? Some profound changes have to be made. The road ahead is that of a strengthening of the deeper pedagogical impulse, renewing the pedagogical practice (reinvention), and then, appropriate communication about who we are and what we do must support the efforts.

Concerning the Steiner School Certificate diploma project (see also the Oslo-meeting report), the cooperation agreement between ECSWE and SEDT on the Steiner School Certificate in Europe was proposed and approved. The Steiner Education Development Trust (SEDT) is the New Zealand organization responsible for quality management, development and implementation of the SSC (read more).

Finally, there was the review of the Yerevan meeting (with many thanks to Ara and the Aregnazan school) and a preview on the year to come.

In 2016, state testing, student assessment, measurement of outcomes, will be a central theme to be deepened during the coming ECSWE meetings. The 6 QoC meetings in the European Parliament in Brussels in 2016 (in collaboration with the Alliance for Childhood European Network Group) will also focus on this topic.

The following ECSWE meetings will take place in:

  • 2 to 4 October 2015, Bratislava (Slovakia)
  • 15 to 17 January 2016 Luxembourg
  • 6 to 8 May 2016 Ringwood (UK)

On Sunday afternoon there was a visit to the Mithras temple in Garni (first century AD) and the medieval monastery of the Holy Lance (12th  – 13th century) in Geghard.

In the evening we visited the Memorial of the Genocide victims. Impressive: a flame surrounded by a circular wall of flowers, laid down flower by flower by the visitors.

And we sang our songs.

Hans Annoot
Federatie Steinerscholen, Belgium
Representative to ECSWE

 


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