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The Stellenbosch Waldorf School turns 21 and joins ISASA

| March 23, 2015 | 0 Comments

By Margaret Laubser

The Stellenbosch Waldorf School (SWS) opened its doors in 1993, and it is here – between the Western Cape mountains, farmlands and cool sea breezes – where children from diverse communities are accompanied on a process of learning from kindergarten (age two) through to high school.

Three of the twenty-one students who wrote exit examinations for the first time last year experienced the full Waldorf journey, working with wonder in kindergarten and moving right through to honing higher-order skills in high school.

At the end of 2014, these 21 young adults concluded their school journeys in the very year that the SWS came of age and turned 21.

Some of these graduates were also in the first cohort to participate in the school’s high school initiative when it launched in 2009. Six years later,1 our desire to provide a full spectrum of learning and experience is now a reality.

During the celebratory year of 2014, the SWS was also privileged to join the ISASA family. The value of now being part of this organisation affords the school the opportunity to link to a wider network beyond the Waldorf community, to learn about education developments and trends in southern Africa and beyond.

Cultivating creativity

As we stride into the future with ISASA’s full support, we feel even more confident about the young heroes we usher into the world – who, in their own authentic, confident and courageous ways, will make their mark in the ever-changing global village.

What else is the future asking of teachers, parents and community to enable youth to take on the tasks that are coming to meet them? Adaptability, resilience, problem-solving and empathy for the environment and fellow humans are up there on the list. The SWS’s curriculum offers these critical capacities and more to its 300 students, and the school values creative response and innovative thinking above all, in keeping with a 2010 study published by computer giant The International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). The study was based on face-to-face conversations with more than 1 500 chief executive officers throughout the world,2 asking them what capabilities they felt leaders would require to manage the future. The most popular response was “creativity”.

It’s a quality embodied by Thomas Sudhof,3 recipient of the Nobel Prize for medicine in 2013, who in his acceptance speech attributed his success in part to his Waldorf education, saying: “It helped me discover a creativity that has supported my scientific work throughout my life.”

Deeply developmental

You may ask how a Waldorf School environment differs from a mainstream school in South Africa.

There is no doubt that all schooling aims to educate learners and to lead them to realise their potential in order for them to contribute to the social and economic landscape.

A Waldorf education overlays the whole experience from a vantage point of essential engagement with subject matter, enlivened by a creative interface with the material that is deeply developmental and generative.

SWS is one of an increasing number of Waldorf Schools worldwide, the total currently standing at 1 026 schools, with over 2 000 additional kindergartens and a slew of developments rising in China.4 There are 18 Waldorf schools in southern Africa, coordinated by the Southern African Federation of Waldorf Schools.5

The main lesson

Experiential learning and hands-on engagement come to the fore in the Waldorf classroom. A typical day, whether in the primary or high school, starts with a main lesson lasting an hour-and-a-half, where a specific subject provides a dedicated focus as part of the cumulative, developing curriculum specially designed to meet the needs of the developing child at a particular stage on their learning journey. The main lesson extends over a three- to four-week period, comprising engagement with the material through many avenues of learning, ranging from the scientific to the artistic.

An example of a main lesson in Grade 5 is patterns in nature – particularly appropriate because children who are age 11, turning 12 years, begin to understand much larger systems. At the core of the main lesson is the lesson book – produced, annotated and illustrated by the children. Completion of the book at the end of the main lesson cycle, together with a presentation of the young people’s observations of their work, amplifies the learning for the whole class.

A campus for the creatively conscious

Now in its 21st year, SWS is rooted on the eastern aspect of the beautiful Spier wine estate. Behind us, the Boland and Hottentot Hollands mountains meet. It has been a long journey – from a back room at Bloemhof School in Stellenbosch, to a residential garage, a research building, an old farmstead and now finally onto a spacious campus with expansive views, amidst a working biodynamic farm, which consciously creates the territory for fundamental learning and appreciation of the environment.

These keen senses of awareness and creative engagement are key outcomes at the SWS and help our students interface with complexity and new ways of knowing.

These are the global citizens that the SWS offers to the world, and who will walk in the footsteps of the 21 pioneers who have bid farewell to their alma mater in Stellenbosch.

1. Waldorf schools complete a 12-year Waldorf curriculum and then add a 13th year as a final focused examination year.
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Additional source: Robinson, M. and Robinson, S. (2014) Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter. Edinburgh: Floris.

Category: Autumn 2015

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