25/2/2015 - 12:00 am

Alternative Education: Expand The Process Beyond Traditional Institutions

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So-called alternative education can develop almost any skill and provide access to virtually any knowledge in the world. From a psychological and social point of view, people break away from daily routine and expand their consciousness with the flow of new information. In this article, we will present a few remarkable examples of alternative sources of education.

In New York, the Guggenheim museum's “Learning through Art” (LTA) program provides students from different social backgrounds with more than 30 hours of humanitarian studies or arts instruction over an academic year. In fact, 150,000 high school students from all over New York City have already been involved in this program. In addition one of the program’s aims is to include children from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Furthermore, the Guggenheim museum provides training and professional programs in order to give interactive gallery tours for children with autism or special needs. In fact, since the value of education is really changing, universities have actively started offering programs such as Music Education and Art Education to increase the importance of the artistic, reflective and creative nature of these subjects in the curriculum, and their effective role in forming a creative character and a capacity for self-expression through the arts.

Education through music
Recently, I visited the Balkan Summer Camp organized by Nigel Osborne, a famous composer and human rights activist. We worked together with children with special needs from Mostar (Bosnia) and Pula (Croatia) to engage them in musical activities. Some children were healthy relatives and siblings of disabled children with cerebral palsy, others highly disabled in language skills, and some were children with Down Syndrome. All of them worked together in small integrative workshops where they had to develop a melody, play instruments, and form lyrics for songs guided by Nigel Osborne and the volunteers. At the end of the weekly workshop sessions a big celebrative performance united all the children together with their parents in music. This camp is a pure example of how education in music can be provided in a calm and beautiful setting during the holidays and helps the patients at the same time. It is an "evocative power" that increases our focus and raises our spirits. In clinical cases, this kind of therapy can be of great benefit to people with disabilities.

Democratic Schools
In the 20th century the world was stirred by a new wave in education, known as the Democratic Schools. Unlike in traditional classrooms, here students are equal with the teachers, meaning that they all share the same responsibilities for their actions and decisions. The focus of democratic education is not on a set curriculum made up more than 30 years ago, but rather on open and interactive methods of teaching and learning. No one here tells the children what they have to and don’t need to learn, students make their own choices. The social organization of such schools is also “governed” and controlled by the students. Every day there is a paper hanging on a board, where students can write down issues to be brought up at the School Meeting. If you are laughing and thinking: “What do kids know about organization and rules?” you would be very much surprised, because when young people are empowered to set up their education and lives as they feel and need, they become very devoted and responsible for their actions. Besides preparatory courses for exams, such schools provide their students with life lessons, in which teachers are observant guides rather than dictating “monsters.”

Democratic Schools around the world: Risinghill School (London), Kluch School (Moscow), Neue Schule Hamburg (Hamburg), Manhattan Free School (Manhattan, NY), Guus Kieft School, (Amsterdam) etc.

Waldorf (Steiner) Education
Waldorf education was introduced by the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. In the course of his observations he noticed that every child goes through certain phases of psychological and spiritual development. He identified 3 main stages and designed an educational system in which courses and methods of teaching would correspond and adjust to the needs of a child. For example, at the early ages children tend to learn and memorize things depending on their sensations, he claimed, hence pre-school teaching should mainly focus on the usage of colors, shapes, natural materials and visual presentation. During elementary years children construct their perception of the world relying on images and feelings. Hence, telling emotional and moving legends, myths, and stories is the best way to get to the minds and hearts of students. As they grow, they attempt to integrate their imagination with learning, thus exercises involving movement, imitation, and play are the best. During the ages 14 to 19, students start to get a rush from various challenges: “Try me and I will prove you wrong!” In these years it’s very important to encourage discussions, debates, and criticism, in order to empower the inner individual to grow.

Waldorf Schools worldwide: Nairobi Waldorf School (Kenya), Ottawa Waldorf School (Canada), Escuela Cuarto Creciente (Argentina), Základní skola waldorfská Praha (Czech Republic), Institut Rudolf Steiner (France) etc.

The Round Square Network: International Schools
Above all else, the schools in The Round Square Network value the experience of being exposed to different nationalities. Mutual sharing of knowledge, traditions, and values between the students is believed to prepare young people for life in a globalized world. Students follow an internationally accepted curriculum, which means that upon graduation they should have a higher chance of being accepted at a prestigious college. A lot of emphasis in such schools is put on extra-curricular activities like sports, camping, and interest clubs. Dr. Jonathan Long, Headmaster of one of these schools, says: “For example, in the challenges of outdoor education, young people from varied backgrounds discover that they experience the same human feelings of fear, apprehension, and achievement. An international education is as much about the quality of the relationships that can be formed between human beings, as it is about a particular curriculum or set of qualifications. These relationships become the soil in which other things can grow. "

As one of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology professors noted, the world today provides us with academic degrees and career selections, but we shouldn't forget about broadening our mind and experience with what our environment has to offer. Be it an athletic activity or music, it's never too late and only our own psychological limitations could form potential stressors in our future lives. It is important that schools and universities give us the possibility of engaging in wide fields of interest so that we can discover our own unique potential. Interactive education, cultural programs focused on the arts or music, and specialized summer camps are, in tandem with traditional teaching, a first step to broadening our minds and developing our maximum potential, be it in a healthy child or in a child with special needs.

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