Over the years there have been many alternatives to conventional education and schooling. These have appeared owing to disagreement or disillusionment with how we want our children to be educated and largely because traditional education doesn’t do its job of helping children and young people to develop even basic life skills. They tend to reject an institutionalised approach based on “learning for passing exams” and a “hidden curriculum” designed to make children conform and to fit in with the needs of industry and commerce. Here are some alternative approaches to schooling, but the list is by no means complete.
Maria Montessori’s method focusses on the developmental needs of young children. She believed that children should develop self-esteem by being responsible for themselves and their environment. There should be no distinction between work, play and freedom within a well-prepared environment in which they could be doing the activity they choose in a given moment. It places much emphasis on the mind-body relationship and tries to enhance self responsibility and decision making within a group context.
The Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky extended the idea of humans’ use of tools to their use of “tools for the mind” as a means of developing mental development. He thought that tools should not only extend our natural abilities, but also change the way we pay attention, remember and think. The role of the teacher is to facilitate children with the mental tools that they need to become active and independent tool users and makers.
Rudolf Steiner was a philosopher and writer (1861-1925). He set up the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart in 1919 for the children of a cigarette factory. Waldorf education represents the essential nature of childhood in which children are encouraged to develop their innate capacities and self confidence in a caring and loving learning environment. Their natural curiosity and enthusiasm are encouraged as essential qualities for on-going learning. Children have the same teacher throughout their school life. Teachers are free to choose and adapt materials to each child and his/her developmental stage. School subjects are integrated according to themes and encompassed in a spiral curriculum which is designed to enhance an understanding of the complex interactions between different phenomena. Art, music and play are a key part of Waldorf educational practice.
Generally speaking, the educational establishment adopts a flexible approach to alternative learning and their institutions. Recent years have seen a positive emergence of “alternative” and free schools, especially in primary education. However, there is still considerable resistance to introducing radical change into mainstream learning, basically because of the demands of industry and the society as a whole. Within the existing situation, little consideration is being given to children’s overall development and much less so to their mental and emotional well-being. We can only hope that, with time, this will change for all our benefit.
Happy English learning!!