Top of the Pisa class – but at a cost. Waldorf education is flourishing in Korea

By Peter Lang, November 2012

People have an idea and act on it. Such proactive people include the Korean Cheong Hie Lee. In the 1990s, she studied German, linguistics and art history in Marburg where she became acquainted with Rudolf Steiner’s writings which took her to the Waldorf teacher training seminar in Stuttgart.

Flourishing Waldorf Education in South Korea

Cheong Hie Lee returned to South Korea after her training in order to be involved in the task of establishing Waldorf education there. To begin with, a larger group of people formed who were enthusiastic about Waldorf education but who then realised very quickly that they did not want to seize just one but several initiatives – and so their ways parted. 

In April 2000, Korean activists founded the “Centre for the Support of Anthroposophy in Korea” and Che­ong Lee started to publish a book series, “Spirit in Action”, which is meanwhile very much in demand; she organised symposia about Waldorf education, made contact with Japanese Waldorf teachers, organised a eurythmy tour by the Else Klink Ensemble Stuttgart, undertook practice placements in German Waldorf kindergartens and went on a study trip to Sekem in Egypt with teachers and farmers.

Top of the Pisa class at the children’s cost

Until very recently, South Korea occupied the top places in the comparative studies of pupil performance. In the most recent one it was replaced by the Chinese city of Shang­hai, but continues to be among the leaders. If we were exclusively concerned with these results, we could be envious of the outcomes of the Korean education system. But if we look at the educational methods, the conditions under which the children and young people learn and live, which lead to these “results”, then the picture is less clear. As early as kindergarten the children are organised into classes by age and one-sided, intellectual learning dominates. The requirement is: the earlier, faster and more performance-focused the better! What is hardly encouraged and supported is the child’s joy in creating things, imagination, delight in playing. The dominance of the range of electronic media available in kindergartens is huge and minimises the experience of and encounter with the world or creativity. But increasing numbers of parents, educators, teachers and lecturers at institutions of higher education are becoming aware that something is going wrong with the children. Their search – often by Internet or visits and studies abroad – has led them to meaningful alternatives which meet the basic needs of children. In this way the conspicuous plight of the children is also a trigger for change – and that gives rise to hope.

A Waldorf teacher seminar is created

I was invited to Seoul in October 2002. The result at the end of a week of public lectures and intensive meetings with Korean activists was an agreement for collaboration between the Waldorf Kindergarten Seminar in Stuttgart and the “Association for the Support of Anthroposophy in Korea” which was to act as the sponsor of a five-semester Waldorf kindergarten teacher training.

The training began in August 2003. Due to the enormous demand, the “Centre” has been offering two consecutive courses with a total of up to 150 participants since 2006. The curriculum has also been created in collaboration between the Korean and German lecturers. Since the summer of 2012, there has only any longer been one large course for the kindergarten teachers (90 participants) and a course on offer for future Waldorf teachers (60 participants). Twice a year up to 30 Korean seminarists travel to Baden-Württemberg for practice placements in Waldorf kindergartens in Stuttgart, Mannheim, Heidelberg and other places. A visit to the Goetheanum in Dornach concludes the trip.

The Waldorf movement bears fruit

More than 60 facilities – kindergartens, children’s houses and infant groups – in various Korean cities are currently being converted to Waldorf kindergartens or have concluded the process. As there are two further training courses for Waldorf kindergarten teachers alongside the “Centre”, the number of facilities offering Waldorf education rises to more than 150. A group of “active Waldorf kindergarten teachers in Korea” is taking on an increasing number of the tasks of quality consulting and assurance in the facilities. Where possible, the German lecturers also sit in on Korean Waldorf facilities. The growing number of Waldorf kindergartens means that the wish of many parents for further Waldorf schools is growing. By the start of this year there were five, at the end of February 2012 a sixth school had joined them which is supported by the “Centre”. The seminar rooms at the “Centre” are regularly used to help children who can no longer cope with the stress of kindergarten and school. In addition, the educators at the “Centre” offer advice to parents as well as seminars and courses on choral singing, painting, dyeing and handwork. The friends in Korea organised a eurythmy tour on occasion of the tenth anniversary of the “Centre”. Eighteen members of the “Junge Bühne Witten” were invited. There were 25 performances for children and adults in various Korean cities which were attended by more than 7 500 people.

Successful partnership

For nine years Korean and German lecturers have been working in a meanwhile large collegium. All lecturers are proven experts on Waldorf education and many Korean friends also speak very good German because they studied in Germany. And so we always look forward to our work together from which new tasks arise. And it is our experience that the fire of enthusiasm continues to burn.

About the author: Peter Lang is a qualified teacher, lecturer and seminar tutor and a member of the council of the Vereinigung der Waldorf-Kindertageseinrichtungen Baden-Württemberg e.V. (Association of Waldorf Child Daycare Facilities in Baden-Württemberg)


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