The only Slovakian Waldorf school in Bratislava is in 2007 entering its sixth year of existence with now 6 grades and 130 pupils in their own building and school grounds. The initiative for its founding began during the post-revolution years in the 1990s. After approval by the Ministry of Education the school opened in September 2001 for the first 20 children.
Our long-term aim is to develop Waldorf education for children aged 3 to 18. In doing so, we will build a stable and credible educational institution that will significantly enrich the Slovak pedagogical environment and contribute to an expansion in the available choices of education alternatives for parents and their children.
Our work lasts now for about 10 years, during which we received training and financial assistance from Stichting Helias (NL), financial support from Friends of Waldorf Education and later also from other organizations and individuals. Currently, the school is financed in the following way: 50% parents, 40% State funding, 10% other donations.
School fees are SKK 3,100 (approx. 85 €) per month. Parents who can´t afford the fees receive significant help from the social fund. The average salary in Slovakia is around SKK 18,000 (500 €) and our teachers’ salaries approach this figure.
The initial idea for a Waldorf school started with parents who were interested in having such a school for their children. These people still comprise an active core group of parents at the school which others have since joined. Since last year, we have an official parents’ committee, which looks as though it will be of great help in the school’s development. We are still looking for the right way to define ourselves in terms of parental participation, so that the result will be real understanding and long-term cooperation.
Waldorf education and the first Waldorf School in Slovakia is carefully followed by the wider public. The school is been part of the Ministry of Education’s experimental program (9-year project), including oversight and management by well-known experts. In addition, the school raises its profile through many meetings, workshops, interviews with the media, meetings organized by parents, festivals and school assemblies.
Our college of teachers issues year-long themes to work on together. During the academic year 2004/05 the central theme was coordination of work among the class teachers. For the current year (2006/07) we are working intensively on improving the quality of the school; i.e. identifying the school’s special successes and looking for ways it can develop further.
Of course there are many other challenges we work upon: A group of parents and teachers is working with the goal of further developing the school, expanding the school’s premises and adding onto the actual school building. Another project is supporting pupils with developmental needs – for this we’ve taken on a special education teacher, an art therapist and we cooperate with a psychologist.
Waldorf pedagogy has many followers among those in the academic community, but also many opponents. The most discussed themes are: sufficiency of pupils’ cognitive preparation, preparation for life in society and the anthroposophical background of the school. Orthodox religious circles like to use these themes and, because of the conservative nature of the country, their words carry significant weight. Also through occasional dissatisfied parents (and they naturally exist everywhere) the focus goes always to the supposed insufficiency of the “pedagogical experiment”. It seems that in Slovakia we must still work harder to integrate the concepts of diversification of pedagogical approaches and parent’s freedom to choose the right school for their child. The vast majority of our parents are absolutely convinced they’ve made the right choice, but at the same time, because of their decision, they are constantly subjected to opposition by those around them.
During the first six years of work at the school we have all gained much experience, not only through direct pedagogical work with pupils, but also in terms of how to organize a school, communicate with those around us, deal with financial issues and undertake the self-development of teachers. We feel very strongly that we are a pioneer school in a country that is slowly waking up to the need that our school seeks to fulfill. Despite all the obstacles, we feel support from other groups who strive to reach the same goals and our work fills us with enthusiasm and hope for the future.