A joyful space

Arun Elassery

Two train journeys later, back at home, I wrote an email to thank Anandhi, one of the founders of Abhaya Waldorf School, for sparing her time to have a free-wheeling discussion with me. I ended my email with a question:
‘I wanted to ask you and didn’t quite get around to it when we met, how does spirituality fit into Abhaya and independently into your personal journey?’

Her response was unexpected. She wrote back:
‘That’s a question no one has asked me so far (in 18 years of running Waldorf schools) and perhaps the most crucial with regard to Waldorf Education.’

And she then went on to explain her perspective at length.

You see, the first Waldorf School that Rudolf Steiner started in Stuttgart in 1919 was a practical application of Anthroposophy, his highly influential system of bringing together spirituality and science. (Today there are 1000 Waldorf schools and 2000 kindergartens in 60 countries and it is the largest and fastest growing ‘alternative schooling’ movement in the world) So, can you see any reason why no one is talking to Anandhi about spirituality in relation to Waldorf education?

Be that as it may, let me back off and start at the beginning. Anandhi was very busy with administrative and academic work when I called her, but I travelled the three hours across Hyderabad by public transport and was lucky that I got more time than I hoped for. This is her story:

Abhinaya, Anandhi’s daughter was around five years old and was beginning to learn things like ‘Man is a social animal’ in her school, when Anandhi attended a seminar on Waldorf education. Realizing that there was a better option, within a few months Anandhi was Abhinaya’s class teacher in the first Waldorf School in Hyderabad. (Anandhi moved on and co-founded Abhaya, one of the four Waldorf schools in the city). In this model, the class teacher travels up with the class till standard 7, at which point she starts a new cycle from standard 1 and the children move on to standard 8, transitioning to prepare for the 10th board exams. Over the seven years that they study together, the students and their class teacher form strong connections that are a hallmark of Waldorf education. The students also transition from an emotional and mental dependence on their class teacher towards emotional and mental freedom – a process that Anandhi finds exhilarating.

The Waldorf curriculum based on a non-mainstream worldview, the beautiful classwork, the intricate work done on the blackboards – Anandhi talked enthusiastically about all these, but what has kept her going over the years, she said, was the felt experience of every single day being a new challenge. Walking through the bright, vibrant, joyful spaces of Abhaya Waldorf School, listening to the background hum of happy children, I think I got a deep sense of what she meant.

Quick facts

Been around for: 12 years
Number of teachers/staff: 20
Number of children: 200
Classes handled: Nursery to 10 with plans of expanding up to class 12
Uniqueness: Based on Rudolf Steiner’s ideas about children and their education
Location: Gundlapochampalli, Hyderabad

The author got his degree from IIT Kharagpur in 1988 and is currently a Wipro Education Fellow. He can be reached at arunelassery@hotmail.com.