In January 2016, Warren Lee Cohen Codirector of the Rudolf Steiner Centre and Toronto Waldorf School parent will be travelling to Madagascar to support the first Waldorf school in this island nation. Warren will be bringing with him 25 years of experience as a Waldorf educator as well as education resources for the faculty of this school including beeswax crayons generously donated by TWS to support their growing school.
The Madagascar School Project was founded in 2007 by Kathy Lucking who was working/volunteering in an orphanage in Madagascar. She wanted to help children break free from the crushing cycle of poverty and malnutrition that have plagued over two thirds of this country. She decided to found a school there, Sekoly Tenaquip and has worked tenaciously ever since directing this school as well as securing funding and resources for it. The school serves an impoverished population, many of whom cannot afford the minimal school fees let alone feed their children during the “Hungry Season”. Now in its 7th year Sekoly Tenaquip has over 550 children enrolled from 18 surrounding villages. Many walk for over an hour to get to school each day and count on the school lunch as their only meal of the day. The school has 32 teachers from KG to Grade 12 and was founded initially on the traditional French school model which involves a rigid routine of drilling and testing in all subject areas as is common throughout Madagascar.
Kathy a retired Ontario school teacher envisions the possibility of converting the school into a Waldorf school, the first in Madagascar. She enrolled in RSCT Professional development for Waldorf Teachers part-time program as a school director. She has also travelled far and wide in Canada seeing and teaching in Waldorf schools as part of this program. Step by step she is working to convert Sekoly Tenaquip into a Waldorf school to help this unique community creatively find solutions for its future.
Kathy will be graduating from the Steiner Centre this July. She is working with others, including her mentor Warren Lee Cohen, to sensitively bring the ideals of Waldorf pedagogy to this Malagasy community. She introduces new ideas and then listens carefully to what finds resonance within the faculty so that they can grow into leadership in practically applying these ideas to their school. It is a process that requires complete metamorphosis: letting go of old colonial forms so that they can step into nascent Waldorf ideals. These can only take root if the teachers and families see the potential of education in a whole new light. Education can be a pathway to getting a good job and can also re-enliven the whole culture of their community creating many new pathways to prosperity.
Already the art of storytelling is taking root and bringing with it depth and joy for students and teachers alike. The teachers are learning to teach through stories, to engage the children’s imaginations and thus to inspire them to learn. Storytelling also gives ample opportunities to weave together a number of subjects in a way that helps the students learn more effectively. Building living pictures is central to Waldorf pedagogy and will help engage students so that they can make positive changes in their lives, families, country and culture. Big changes are needed to break this cycle of poverty and oppression and it will take many creative people to start the tide of change.
Warren lee Cohen, the Codirector of RSCT, will be joining Kathy in Madagascar in January to help implement the next steps in transforming this school into a Waldorf school. He will be working with all the grade school and high school teachers, helping them to identify what truly makes teaching come alive for them. Harnessing these moments when they reach a particular student, make a difference in her life or have a particularly creative moment in a lesson is what makes teaching inspiring and transformative as opposed to oppressive. Warren will work with them through the Waldorf science, math and language arts curricula as well as clay modeling. This will help the faculty to identify the students’ developmental needs and enliven their teaching. It is essential that each teacher develops inspiration and openness for this quality of change in her teaching method and ultimately in herself. Questions we will explore include:
What is a human being?
What gives you most joy in teaching?
How do students reveal when they are learning and/or failing to learn?
How can you assess the health of each student and the school as a whole?
What do your students most need?
What does your community need from these young people?
Warren Lee Cohen