Micheline Habib, education adviser and children’s book author Image Credit: Courtesy of Micheline Habib

Abu Dhabi: The Rudolf Steiner education movement may be gaining in popularity in some parts of the world but could it actually work here in the UAE? Gulf News speaks to Abu Dhabi-based educational adviser and children’s book writer, Micheline Habib.


Q: Do you think the Steiner education system is credible?

I like some individual aspects of it such as the use of imagination and the artistic approach. However, question marks hang over many other aspects like starting school at seven and having the same teacher for eight years, which has proved to be challenging according to recent research. Discipline has also been a problem — mainly bullying — which has devastating psychological, social and academic effects on the child. To me this is a big worry.


A: The Steiner method focuses on the spiritual and emotional development of children as much as it does academic development, is this essential for school children?

The three interlink. This development is essential, especially in the early years where it is crucial. It depends however, on how and why it is done. Moreover, for a healthy development there should be a balance between the three.


Q: Formal learning in the Steiner education does not begin until age seven, is this an effective method?


A: Many European educational systems do not require school attendance till age six and those systems have proved efficient. That is because the child has developed physically, psychologically and mentally. In my perspective five is an ideal age to start school, while seven is a late stage to do so. I personally do not think it is effective especially if we think of learning foreign languages, which in the Steiner system are usually two.


Q: What do you think the non-hierarchical staff structure (no headmasters) adopted at a Steiner school does for the children?


A: I think this is more of a benefit for the staff than the students in terms of pressure. On the other hand, they will still need someone to take care of the management matters, because as we know teachers already have a lot on their plate, so they do not need extra load even if it is shared.

Furthermore, in mainstream education there is an administration students know they will be referred to in case of discipline issues, for example. In the Steiner system, it is the teacher who sees to such matters. I think this is too much for a teacher to do and behaviour problems will definitely occur, which will certainly have negative effects on the students.


Q: Have you heard of any Steiner school methods being adopted in the UAE?


A: It seems that there are a few Steiner schools in Dubai, but I’m not familiar with them personally.


Q: Do you think the Steiner method of education has a place in the UAE?


A: This system has some good aspects and if adopted in the right way they could yield great results. On the other hand, in addition to being a system based on the principles of a philosophical and spiritual approach, it also has some other aspects that can have worrying results.


Q: What advice would you give parents in the UAE who would prefer to have their children educated the Steiner way but are only offered conventional schools here in the UAE?


A: They should be fully aware of the nature of the system, including that it is sectarian. Once they are aware of that they can decide on whether to enrol their child or not. However, if that is not possible, they would choose schools who apply a similar approach to the Steiner method — or at least who have picked the best practices in that system and they have included them in their curriculum.