For Our Times

Navigating Uncertainty

Students embarking on Primary or Lower School education today will be in adult life part of a workforce employed in jobs, many of which have yet to be invented. In contemporary culture, it is not uncommon for profession and occupation to change a number of times over the course of one’s life. So what is it, and how can schools provide that which children need for the future? They will need to be lifelong learners, they will need an education that is inspiring, creative, relevant and one the leads to flexible, adaptable outcomes. Waldorf education cultivates the capacities, strengths, skills and inner qualities that children will require for adult life in a fast-changing world.

Globalisation 4.0: Social and Collaboration Skills are Imperative

Although Steiner Waldorf education was developed over a century ago, in the current global climate it has the potential to offer more to its graduates than ever before. With the Fourth Industrial Revolution underway, and its interaction with other socio-economic and demographic factors, the way we organise our economies and societies, as well as cooperate internationally is being challenged. A recent report published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) highlights that as the labour market changes, social skills will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills, such as programming or equipment operation and control. Specifically, the top 10 skills desired for 2020 according to the WEF are: 1. Complex Problem Solving 2. Critical Thinking 3. Creativity 4. People Management 5. Coordinating with Others 6. Emotional Intelligence 7. Judgement and Decision Making 8. Service Orientation 9. Negotiation 10. Cognitive Flexibility Waldorf education has always aimed to supplement technical skills with strong social and collaboration capacities, creativity and lateral thinking. These are now recognised as highly valuable not only for the working generations of the near future, but also for society on the whole.

A Curriculum for the Future

As governments around the world struggle to find the best education policies and promote repeated education reforms, the future of education is unpredictable. However, evidence-based research now strongly supports the principles underlying Steiner Waldorf education as the way forward. As they have done for over 100 years, Steiner schools steadfastly continue to meet the needs of their students in a holistic way, to cultivate the capacities, strengths, skills and inner qualities that children will require for a fulfilling and successful adult life in a fast changing world. Increasingly, the principles and aims of Waldorf education are claiming support from highly esteemed Education professionals. Sir Ken Robinson, international advisor on education in the arts to government, non-profits, education and arts bodies suggests that to engage and succeed, education has to develop on three fronts: First, it should foster diversity by offering a broad curriculum and encourage individualisation of the learning process. Second, it should foster curiosity through creative teaching, which depends on high quality teacher training and development. Finally, it should focus on awakening creativity through alternative didactic processes that put less emphasis on standardised testing, thereby giving the responsibility for defining the course of education to individual schools and teachers. Internationally renowned educator and researcher, Yong Zhao, Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global and Online Education, University of Oregon, states in his recent book, World Class Learners, Education Creative and Entrepreneurial Students : “To prepare global, creative, and entrepreneurial talents … The most desirable education, of course, is one that enhances human curiosity and creativity, encourages risk taking, and cultivates the entrepreneurial spirit in the context of globalisation.” Waldorf education, from its far-sighted inception has aimed to offers all of the above. The fast-changing world around us, and its implication for human beings, means that the Steiner Waldorf approach is becoming increasingly relevant; offering a paradigm-shift in education that has the power the significantly shape the future that is currently emerging.

In Support of Mental Fitness

The Mental Health crisis in teens is of increasing concern for parents and educators worldwide; a recent report by The Children’s Society revealed that a quarter of 14-year-old girls in the UK have self-harmed. Likely causes include austerity, global uncertainty and a highly pressured education system. The British Psychological Society’s recently published Power Threat Meaning Framework, sees mental distress less as an individual medical issue, and more as an intelligible response to the social, material and cultural pressures acting on people. Although such large-scale issues may be beyond the scope of schools to address, the educational environment itself has a key role to play. Space and time allowing for dialogue, self-expression, playfulness, creativity, exploration and development of personal initiative offer opportunities to enable young people to understand the world around them and thrive despite adversity. While the performance-focused systems of mainstream education may have largely eroded opportunities to foster these capacities, Steiner schools aim to provide the environment and curriculum to support the happy and healthy all-round development of every child, without compromising on academic performance.

The Phase II of the Survey of Waldorf Graduates (2007) from the Research Institute for Waldorf Education, has reported the following typical profile of a Steiner school graduate, demonstrating a healthy self-image and positive outlook on life:

  • Highly values interpersonal relationships at home and on the job (96%)
  • Is self-reliant and highly values self-confidence (94%)
  • Highly values verbal expression (93%) and critical thinking (92%)
  • Practices and values life-long learning (91%)
  • Highly values tolerance of other viewpoints (90%)
  • Is highly satisfied in choice of occupation (89%)
  • At work cares most about ethical principles (82%) and values helping others (82%)

Parents Choose Resilience and Innovative Thinking

With over 1150 Steiner schools in 80 countries, Waldorf education is the fastest growing independent educational movement in the world. A recent documentary by The New York Times shows that parents from varying backgrounds and industries are turning to Waldorf education for their children. In “Preparing for Life” entrepreneurs, Stanford researchers, investment bankers, and parents who run some of the largest high tech companies in the world, have contributed their views on what children need to navigate the challenges of the 21st Century in order to find success, purpose, and happiness in their lives. They support the importance of the Waldorf education focus on creativity, resilience, innovative thinking, and social and emotional intelligence over memorisation learning. Steiner had great foresight and was ahead of his time. What he recognised about learning over a hundred years ago is gradually being substantiated by new discoveries in brain research. The need for each individual to recreate his own meaning, mind-body relationships, and the involvement of the emotions play critical roles in truly effective learning. Similarly, there is neuroscientific research that provides physiological support for the notion that thinking, feeling, and willing are core human capacities.

“It’s relevant for two reasons: 1. Education needs to move on from its post-industrialists framework of Reading, Writing, Arithmetic (state schools) towards a future-facing skill set of Creative thinking, Collaborative working, ability to Communicate well and have Critical Thinking (Waldorf schools). I think a Waldorf education has the capacity to better educate for our future world.” Parent