Test of character. The Waldorf movement in Slovakia

Slavomír Lichvár

The preparatory work was done in the group of members of the Friends of Waldorf Schools Association. Although this work received considerable impetus from the eastern Slovakian town of Košice, the first school was founded in the west, in Bratislava. In Košice there was a school with some elements of Waldorf education at an early stage, as there was in Spišská Nová Ves and Závadka nad Hronom. In Košice there was also a kindergarten with Waldorf elements which still exists today. Another Waldorf kindergarten (now recognised by IASWECE) was founded at a later stage, but it took until 2012 for the first Waldorf school class to come into being. Today there are a total of five classes at this school.

How did things go in the kindergartens during the coronavirus crisis?

There are currently four kindergartens in Slovakia: two in Bratislava, one in Senec and one in Košice. The kindergartens were least affected by the coronavirus measures from an educational point of view. After about one month of closure in spring 2020, they were able to reopen without major restrictions. There was no compulsory mask wearing for small children and also no remote learning, therefore the kindergarten teachers could work in the normal way.

Financially, the situation was more difficult because none of these institutions receive subsidies from the state. Some, especially the newly founded ones, survived the radical lockdown only with generous support from the Friends of Waldorf Education, several foundations (Software AG Foundation, Hermes Austria, Helias Netherlands, Clara Kreutzer Foundation and the Freie Gemeinschaftsbank Foundation) and from the two schools in Bratislava and Košice, which receive subsidies as state-recognised schools.

Among the institutions that needed financial help were several newly established ones. Current start-ups are: the residential Waldorf school in Bratislava, the “Living” school and forest kindergarten in Nové Zámky, forest kindergartens in Bratislava and Limbach and a forest school with kindergarten in Borinka. For all of them Waldorf education is a central inspiration. The residential Waldorf school (sometimes called Bratislava 2) is educationally supervised by Waldorf teacher Christine Krauch thanks to the IAO.

The pandemic as an opportunity for a conscious art of education

And how are our schools doing? Excellently, actually. The pandemic has asked some pretty straightforward questions of us, much like of other teachers around the world: is illness a cause for development or an unwanted anxiety-inducing inconvenience? Is an “education of relationships” possible in remote learning – over the long term?

Thanks to virtual education, we were able to observe the extent to which an art of teaching that uses methods that create enthusiasm differs from purely intellectual teaching. Light was also shed on those areas that have existed as “a hidden agenda” or perhaps as a long-standing problem in the faculties. On the one hand, this is good. On the other hand, it can be very challenging. Here I must add that the coronavirus measures, which in Slovakia were set out only as recommendations in legal terms, were generally followed very strictly by the schools. When my colleague from the national Association described the situation during the zoom conference of Waldorf school parents, the parents from other countries found it hard to believe that the schools and especially the children in our country were so severely affected.

Above all, there are thousands of Roma children in Slovakia who suffer from terrible living conditions. For them, remote learning simply meant no education at all. But not only for them. The practical solutions looked very different in the Košice and Bratislava Waldorf schools. Most of the teachers in Košice came to the conclusion very early on, based on their observation, that both compulsory mask wearing and remote teaching had a detrimental effect on education. I don’t even want to talk about the ban on singing and gym lessons and the need for regular coronavirus tests. There were substantial differences between the opinions and fears of teachers and parents regarding the disease and the measures. Nevertheless, most of them were tolerant enough so that face-to-face classes were possible, with some changes, almost without interruption even under the measures.

The situation in Bratislava was different. Here we can speak of many great fears: fear of the disease, of the measures, distrust of the school parents, etc. People willingly undertook remote learning, fulfilled the testing and the mask wearing requirement. At the same time, there were strong dissenting voices among teachers, but also parents. All this could have been consigned to the past if the disagreements had not led to the departure of several teachers and parents.

The outlook of the Waldorf school movement in Slovakia

The outlook arises from the answer to the question: how can we create a protected space for the healthy development of the soul? The pandemic has reinforced two trends. On the one hand, parents are seeking a healthy environment for their children which a forest school or forest kindergarten provides for some. On the other hand, our schools are facing the challenge of making their pupils more media literate. How can we teach children to use digital “stuff” in a conscious and healthy way? How can we avoid losing the relationship with the adolescents in the process?

Perhaps it is no exaggeration to say that Waldorf education in Slovakia only has a future if teachers learn to respond correctly to the questions posed by the pandemic. Only then can the existing and new schools be educationally fruitful. This also applies to the planned class teacher training, which, if all goes well, will begin with a new cycle in two years.

About the author: After training as a teacher, Slavomír Lichvár attended the Seminar for Waldorf Education in Prague and worked as a language, horticulture and class teacher at the Bratislava Waldorf School. He is the country representative of the Slovakian Waldorf Association as well as a member of ECSWE and the IAO. Today he teaches at the Košice Waldorf School.