China

Today, more than 300 initiatives are practicing Waldorf early childhood education, and there are more than 50 practicing Waldorf grade schools. For early childhood education, groups include kindergartens, children’s homes, parent-toddler classes, and childcare in homes and centers.  The Waldorf education movement is rapidly growing in China.

Looking back. In 2004, the first Waldorf school and kindergarten were founded in Chengdu, China. The first kindergarten class started with five children and was led by Li Zhang. In 2010, the Waldorf Early Childhood Training and Mentoring Program in China (WECC) was founded through IASWECE, the Friends of Waldorf Education (“Freunde”), and the Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum.  Thanh Cherry was appointed WECC Coordinator. WECC is responsible for overseeing and facilitating the kindergarten teacher training and mentor work in China.

Working together. In 2011 Thanh Cherry and Li Zhang, together with other colleagues, founded the China Waldorf Early Childhood Education Forum to support the growing kindergarten movement in China.  The CECEF carrying group includes representatives from the six “Waldorf” regions of China. Li Zhang is the chairperson.  In 2014, CECEF became a member of IASWECE.  In 2015 Thanh Cherry stepped back as WECC Coordinator but continues as a WECC /CECEF consultant until the end of 2016. Kathy MacFarlane from New Zealand has taken on the WECC Coordinator position, which is an enormous task.

 
The educational situation in China. Waldorf education offers a very different alternative option to Chinese state education. Chinese state education focuses on intellectual learning, with a heavy emphasis on memorization and testing, but does not foster creativity. Now, more and more parents are seeking out Waldorf education as one of their options for alternative education.

There is also a growing interest in studying Waldorf education for self-development and becoming a teacher. Many parents and teachers show great enthusiasm for getting involved in the work of founding and running a school or kindergarten.  

Teachers and parents see similarities in Waldorf education and traditional Chinese culture, particularly, Taoism and Chinese medicine. Waldorf education has allowed them to come to appreciate their own culture and traditions and they integrate aspects of traditional culture into the Waldorf kindergartens and communities all the times.

Training Courses. Currently, there are three-year part-time WECC kindergarten teacher training courses offered in six cities: Chengdu, Beijing, Xian, Nanjing, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong. Each year, there are more than 800 students enrolled in WECC training programs.

In addition to the teacher training courses, there is a variety of specialized courses and workshops, such as birth to three courses, Waldorf kindergarten management courses, regional seminars, and introductory courses. These course are organized by CECEF.

About Waldorf kindergartens and Waldorf children’s home. In China, Waldorf kindergartens and children’s homes all have mix ages groups with children from three to seven years old.  The program is from 8:30 AM to 16:30 PM every day.   Most  kindergartens and children’s homes also have parent-toddler classes for children from one-and-a-half to three-and-a-half years old.  This program takes place two or three half days a week.  

Training Courses. Currently, there are three-year part-time WECC kindergarten teacher training courses offered in six cities: Chengdu, Beijing, Xian, Nanjing, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong. Each year, there are more than 800 students enrolled in WECC training programs.

In addition to the teacher training courses, there is a variety of specialized courses and workshops, such as birth to three courses, Waldorf kindergarten management courses, regional seminars, and introductory courses. These course are organized by CECEF.

Burning issues and questions. Chinese Waldorf kindergartens and children’s homes face a common challenge of not having enough qualified teachers, because of the growing needs from parents and kindergartens. Furthermore, new teachers and students in training do not have enough opportunity to observe well-established kindergartens. There is also a lack of resources for mentorship and guidance from more experienced teachers.

An additional challenge is that most facilities must meet strict regulations required by the state education department and it is a very difficult process to receive approval.

In the public and also in Waldorf circles there are questions about what could be seen as a religious element in Waldorf education and whether Waldorf education can prepare children to adapt to the public education system.

Li Zhang, Waldorf kindergarten teacher and trainer in the Waldorf early childhood training in Chengdu, is the chairperson of  CECEF and IASWECE Council member.