European parent work

By Ellen Niemann, December 2019

The European Network of Steiner Waldorf Parents (ENSWaP) has existed in its present form since 2007. It was a small group of six parents who met for the first conference in Iceland in 2011. They laid the foundation stone for the annual meetings which are held in a different host country each time.

Since then there have been conferences in Riga, Vienna, Stockholm, Budapest and Bologna. ENSWaP does not have a budget of its own and so the costs for the conferences have to be borne by the participating parents. A small minority are supported by their schools or associations in their country. Travel, accommodation and attendance fee are paid by the parents out of their own pocket.

Each conference is devoted to a particular subject. The last two, for example, were “Building Bridges” and “Digital Reality in Waldorf Schools”. In the anniversary year 2019, the planning group wanted Berlin to be the venue and with the Berlin Mitte Free School a host school was also quickly found. About seventy Waldorf parents from fifteen European countries met there in May to discuss the conference topic of “100 Years of Waldorf Pedagogy – Preserving Ashes or Lighting Fires?”. Accompanied by three lectures from Christopher Clouder (International Forum), Constanza Kaliks (Youth Section at the Goetheanum) and Nana Göbel (Friends of Waldorf Education), the parents exchanged views in intensive discussions on what Waldorf education meant for them, what connected them and how parent work had developed in a hundred years.

At the plenary session, the parents spoke about the situation in their countries and this item on the agenda at the latest illustrated something that was previously only evident in particular instances: enabling and maintaining Waldorf education is, more than ever, also a task of parents! The schools have to struggle with financial worries in many countries since there is no or only little funding from the state; some countries enter into educational compromises through mixed forms with state schools.

The lack of buildings means that inventiveness is required in organising spaces; a small Portuguese school, for example, has to hold some of its lessons outdoors in a covered stone circle. State interference and requirements make life in the schools difficult and require a high degree of care and support for the educational staff who are not always able to face the pressure. The Waldorf parents from Estonia, Russia, Romania, Italy, Ukraine, England, the Czech Republic and France, in particular, reported strikingly about the way the authorities make use of every opportunity to close schools instead of familiarising themselves with this system of education and permitting freedom in the education sector.

Despite the hardship of these circumstances, it is parents, in particular, who with much enthusiasm fuel the fire or kindle it anew to support a system of education which they hold dear not just for their own children but which they increasingly also see as a societal task.

The next ENSWaP conference will take place in Ukraine in April 2020.

https://enswap.org

When Waldorf crosses national boundaries, the most quirky abbreviations can arise: from EFFE through ECSWE to IASWECE and ECNAIS*. The European network of Waldorf parents is no exception: ENSWaP might sound unwieldy at first, but it is worth looking behind the name.

* ECSWE: European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education; EFFE: European Forum for Freedom in Education; IASWECE: International Association for Steiner/Waldorf Early Childhood Education; ECNAIS: European Council of National Associations of Independent Schools.

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