Current topics – school and vocation

Wilfried Gabriel

Waldorf100 shows that a holistic education with a spiritual foundation is not only possible but successfully connects with the needs of children, young people and their parents worldwide. Our Waldorf schools have decades of positive experience with an educational concept which is not primarily guided by outdated educational content defined by societal and economic interests but by the developmental tasks and processes of the children and young people.

It is an educational concept that integrates cognitive, artistic and practical vocational aspects in the range of lessons, something which is becoming ever more relevant in view of the current and future challenges. These challenges include a lack of equal opportunities in education, the growing craze for academisation, a lack of recognition of practical vocational learning, inclusion as an “economy model”, segregation instead of integration and the digitalisation hype in schools.

The educational concept of Waldorf education responds with learning processes which communicate a productive and creative way of dealing with the world and thus create a basis for personal autonomy and independence.

Developing practical learning

When Rudolf Steiner founded the first Waldorf school in 1919 out of an impulse of social reform, his goal was a school which prepared its pupils for life, was open to all and left no one behind. Its motto was and is: “All lessons should teach life skills”. The study of “life skills” can be understood in the Waldorf upper school in a very modern sense as a methodological guiding concept. It provides practical and interdisciplinary learning and vocational guidance and includes concrete forms of integration of vocational and general education. Steiner was definitely thinking of practical lessons held in a workshop in which usable and necessary items were to be produced and sold. He saw in modern work a process of individual, but also social self-realisation of the human being – work as working with and for others in a global society based on division of labour.

The first Waldorf school was only able to realise the original triadic educational programme (cognitive, creative and vocational learning) in its lower school, the classes 1-8, but it could not be consistently continued in upper school. The Waldorf schools turned into a “historical compromise” and to the present day most of them have an academic orientation in their upper schools.

But the tasks which were set 100 years ago have lost none of their relevance and neither has the creative power of Waldorf education to deal with the current problems in our education system. As a supplement and alternative to the academic learning path, some Waldorf schools (Herne, Kassel, Nuremberg, Berlin, vocational Waldorf schools in North Rhine-Westphalia) have taken up Steiner’s educational impulse and developed various concepts to combine vocational and general learning.

In doing so, they have embarked on new paths: thus there are, for example, possibilities to have the practical learning in lower and middle school recognised as the first year of vocational training and of forms of “dual qualification” (vocational training and university entrance). The experience gained in this context, in some cases over decades, is an important contribution to the current education policy debate and the necessary reform processes.

In order to develop these approaches further, the German Association of Waldorf Schools in cooperation with the Research Centre for Waldorf Work Education and Vocational Training at Alanus University has set up a nationwide “Vocational Waldorf School” model project. Under the motto “Differentiation not selection!” it is about extending the educational provision of the Waldorf schools and the following goals:

1. The development and implementation of a new triadic understanding of education which includes upgrading practical and vocational learning;

2.  The creation of organisational framework conditions to enable the flexible integration and methodologically coordinated integration of general vocational training;

3.  Greater leeway in the design of examination and approval systems which could lead to a broad range of dual qualification learning opportunities including access to higher education.

About the author: Dr. Wilfried Gabriel, Schloss Hamborn Waldorf Vocational School, Research Centre for Waldorf Work Education and Vocational Training at Alanus University, Alfter