Lighting the way for a more human world

By Nana Goebel, March 2014

Janpen and Porn Panosot – Waldorf pioneers in Thailand.

Thai monthly festival: upper school pupils of the Panyotai Waldorf school perform a temple dance at the Asian Waldorf Teacher Conference.

Porn Panosot

The first Waldorf school in Thailand opened in 1996. How did that come about? Janpen and Porn Panosot were both students at Chulalongkorn University. Porn, who was born in Sukhotai and grew up in non-privileged circumstances, received a grant as a result of his excellent school results.

The two of them were already activists at university; after the military coup they published one of the best-known underground newspapers. In the late 1980s, Ingrid Liebig-Hundius accompanied her husband Harald Hundius, a professor of oriental studies at Passau University specialising in the mountain dialects of northern Thailand and Laos, on a research visit.

She had various conversations about education questions, both in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. During one of these meetings a conversation developed with Janpen and Porn Panosot. Both were already socially active during this period. At the time, Porn was working in a state hospital as a paediatrician. He was responsible for the medical care of abused girls, helped in setting up a shelter for abused children and became a founder member of the Child Protection Foundation which subsequently established a home for up to a hundred children.

When he had learnt more about Waldorf education, the conviction grew in him that he wanted to strengthen the mental and physical powers of resistance of the children preventively rather than only dealing with the after-effects. He saw such a possibility in Waldorf education. At the same time – and in looking for a suitable school for his own children – he discovered in it also an alternative to the state school system, the latter based on pure rote learning and severe competition.

From paediatrician to kindergarten teacher ...

Without further ado, the whole family decamped from Bangkok to the USA to study at the then Sunbridge College Waldorf teacher training institute in Spring Valley north of New York. The family remained in the United States for four years and two further children were born before the family returned to Thailand in 1994. The paediatrician turned into a Waldorf kindergarten teacher who started his first Waldorf kindergarten group in his living room.

Alongside working in the kindergarten and looking after the twins who had meanwhile arrived, Janpen also began translating the works of Rudolf Steiner into Thai, making the texts available to future pre-school and school teachers. Since the launch of the kindergarten was meant to be a first step in a much larger concept to transform the school system in Thailand, introductory sessions were held at Chulalongkorn University from 1996 onwards and a work relationship was built up with the faculty of early years education.

... and then to class teacher

The kindergarten was followed in 1996 by a school and Porn Panosot became the class teacher of an initially very small group of children. The Panyotai Waldorf school was not recognised by the government because such a school type was not provided for under the education act. So something had to be done. In 1998, Porn Panosot had the idea of the Network for Freedom in Education which consisted of twenty individual groups. Difficult talks were held with the education ministry – successfully as it turned out. The national education act adopted in 1999 then actually did provide for greater freedom in the education system. The Network was expanded into the Alternative Education Council and Porn Panosot was given the task by the national education commission to prepare a study on alternative education worldwide as well as developing a concept for a Waldorf teacher training seminar in Thailand. In 2000 he joined a committee which was to draft the regulations for an alternative school system. Living a contradiction was thus possible because, on the one hand, the Panosots were operating an illegal school while, on the other hand, Porn became an advisor to the education ministry in questions of school diversity and freedom in the education system. An article by Panosot in the Bangkok Post led to the establishment of a second Waldorf school in 2000 which was called Tridhaksa and which continues to the present day – even if under a different name.

Illegal yet international

In 2002, the school moved into a bigger building which was now able to accommodate all classes but it was still outside the law. The school, well-known far beyond Bangkok, remained illegal. The degree to which the Panyotai school had become famous was illustrated when it was selected as one of five innovative schools which were presented to the international participants at a state-organised education conference. Some conventional schools and kindergartens had meanwhile adopted methods of Waldorf education. But a new school had to be built, because the existing school could not carry on in its temporary state. That, too, was a success because in the meantime so many enthusiastic parents had joined that the required resources could be raised. In addition there was a loan from the sister, a teacher as well as considerable resources from the Friends of Waldorf education and a number of foundations. The new school building was inaugurated in 2007. The participants at the Asian Waldorf Teacher Conference were also present at the time and they could not get over their amazement at what had been created here.

Chinese emperors instead of Germanic sagas

After eight years, Porn Panosot turned into an upper school teacher, sometimes teaching three classes simultaneously; biology in one, literature in another, and chemistry in the third. Janpen Panosot looked after the school administration, took care of all the correspondence, held parent meetings, gave courses, continued to work on translations and took care of everything else that accrued.

Porn developed the curriculum for Thai Waldorf schools. He searched for fairy tale images for the lower classes, found sagas in the Buddhist tradition, replaced stories about Roman emperors with presentations of the great Chinese emperors, developed a new concept for music teaching and adapted the curriculum to the needs of the children of Thailand.

Janpen and Porn Panosot have taken every opportunity throughout the country to speak about Waldorf education and with their involvement further Waldorf initiatives are being established today in Chiang Mai, Khonkaen and other cities.

Janpen Panosot describes the joint impulse of the couple in the following words: “The light of Rudolf Steiner’ healing indications, which have guided our work with the children, is nourishment for their growth and development and helps them to become creative, morally responsible citizens of earth who will in the future contribute to making the world a  more human place.”


Thomas LUDESCHER, Australia, 27.03.14 10:03

Light in encroaching darkness!

Thomas Ludescher, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, 11.06.17 02:06

Thomas and Karen hope to visit soon!

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