Friday, 1 November 2013


Snap shots from the opening session

In response to questions about what I have thought of the 8th World Congress of Conductive Education, I have had no coherent report to make. Indeed, I have been unwilling to commit myself in writing at all, as some of my impressions might be regarded as 'negative'. After all, I had been there as an invited guest, and one should take care about how one repays hospitality. Any criticisms perceived here are intended with positive and friendly intention.

I was most grateful for the organizers' invitation and the opportunity to go, for I could not have attended otherwise, and I very much appreciated the opportunity to see Germany again. There was even a point, however, when I felt that I should just tip-toe away and not write anything.

But others who were there have published their impressions on line and I gain a certain comfort from how their impressions have paralleled my own. So, still unable to render a particularly coherent report, I shall go to my notes and resurrect some of the snippets of information, encounters and impressions that flooded in on me there during my time in Germany last month, and something of the German context as I perceived it. I guess that, in addition to those who have published on line, many others of those who attended will have already done the same in informal conversations and in some cases in more formal written reports, but I have not come across any such and rather doubt that very many will see the public light of day. I do hope, though, that some still will, and that my own belated offering will encourage their publication. And I know that some of those who have already publicly reported on line still have things to say...

These snippets will be presented in no narrative order, simply as they occur to me, but they do begin with my notes of the opening formal session, on the morning of Thursday 10 October.

Opening session

Arriving at the congress centre on the first morning, my immediate impression was the queues to register, stretching out of the doors. Thereafter, my persisting impression was of crowds and jostle. At he start of that first day, however, people were hurrying to register, and converging purposefully on the main hall – and as is usual on such occasions, the opening session was packed out. And as is also usual on such occasions, this was the time to see and the Great and the Good. What do I recall of what they told us at that opening session?

The overwhelming impression of what I heard at this opening session was that Conductive Education in Germany – or rather konduktive Förderung, die Petö Methode – is as sound as a bell and as strong as houses, and well supported academically (in Germany they say Wissenschaftliche, usually rather confusingly translated into English as 'scientific', which does not really man the same at all). It is content and confident. I also gained the impression that following a hard patch things are on the mend in Hungary. I heard nothing about the rest of the world.

The plenary sessions at the Congress were under the care of 'moderators', whom I took to be professional compères, good at their job, slick and accomplished crowd-managers, but not quite what I might have expected at a 'Congress'. The audience responded enthusiastically, not just with stormy applause but even loud whoops of approbation.

I am not used to being asked to introduce myself to the person sitting next to me. Nor to Happy Birthday's being sung to someone in the hall. It seemed more like a rally than a Congress, a religious or political rally. Or Eurovision. Perhaps I just do not get out enough nowadays, to keepup with how the wide world is changing.

As usual at such an opening event I searched in my newly received Congress papers to find a list of people attending. There wasn't one. My immediate impression, however, was that most of those attending were German. Much of what was to be said at the Congress would be in English, even though there appeared relatively few there from the English-speaking world. Decent of the Germans, then, to conduct so much of the proceedings in English – though this not always conductive to communication.

We are told that some six-hundred-odd people registered for the Congress but that late registrants have brought the total to some seven hundred and fifty.

A Princess spoke (Ursula of Bavaria). It is a long, long time since I saw a Princess at a Conductive Education event. When I used to, 'mine' (Diana of Wales) was never allowed to speak – funny business, that. This one, however, spoke up well. Inter alia, she said that Conductive Education (konduktive Förderung, 'Petö') is 'holistic', and quoted Andras Peto's message to those who would come after –

Take what I have begun and further develop it.

Next up was Mr Hubert Hüppe, the Federal Commissioner for Disabled People. Apparently he is referred to as 'Herr Inklusion' because he so wants the inclusion of disabled people and travels around a lot to see it in operation. He was at last year's 'Petö and Inclusion', that most successful conference in Rosenheim:

He approves of konduktive Förderung because it 'improves strength and abilitiesthe whole individual'.

Following the recent Election, Bavaria's State Cabinet was being sworn in that morning, so Christine Haderthauer, the Bavarian Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Family and Women, could not attend. On her behalf, however, it was stated that her Ministry gives konduktive Förderung careful attention, and political and financial support, and that in the name of the Bavarian Government she wished to confirm her complete ministerial support for konduktive Förderung. It is embedded in the United Nations Declaration on the Disabled. The creator of konduktive Förderung, she said, helped make society more human, through participatory thinking, inclusion, and working together – the disabled and the able working together, a beautiful thought. And, she said, it is holistic. Attention is now being paid by the Bavarian Ministry of Education and Culture, with a view to creating a 'new higher education for conductors'.

On that high, the compère could now turned to academic ('scientific') matters, bringing on and interviewing the two first Keynote Speakers. Prof Rainer Blank said that his goal after this Congress would be to prove that konduktive Förderung is really effective, to prove the whole concept, keeping in mind that there are other concepts too. Prof Angelika Speck-Hamden told that she had first learned of konduktive Förderung through the work of the Munich organisation Pfennigparade. Asked what was her goal after this World Congress she replied –

That we talk together. Cooperation in this field is so successful, that CE should be a model for the rest of the work with disability.

Rainer Blank is a paediatrician. His address concerned an evaluation project that he published twelve years ago. He described Conductive Education as –

...repetitive block therapy based upon repetitive training of functional skills in everyday living.

The outcome was measured by children's force of grip.

Angelika Speck-Hamdan is a pedagogue –

Conductive Education was developed in an exclusive situation, exclusively for children with cerebral palsy...

Both also said that it is 'holistic'. Holistic, if not a key note, was being established as a sort of idée fixé (in the musical sense). I wondered what it means.

If those unused to conferences and congresses are puzzled by this talk of 'keynotes', a keynote address is:
...a talk that establishes the main underlying theme. In corporate or commercial settings, greater importance is attached to the delivery of a keynote speech or keynote address. The keynote lays the framework for the following programme of events or convention agenda... at academic conferences, the keynote address or keynote speech is delivered to set the underlying tone and summarize the core message or most important revelation of the event...
The term key note comes from the practice of a capella, often barbershop singers, playing a note before singing. The note played determines the key in which the song will be performed.

The Congress's key notes having been struck, it was time for the first hearing of the Congress Song (of which more perhaps anon), followed by stormy applause. Then on to what, to me anyway, was the burning topic of the day (and the month, and the year) – though one could but wonder what the bulk of the audience would be making of it – what is happening to the Pető Institute.

Franz Schaffhauser Rector of the Pető Institute in Budapest, came on stage to give the welcoming address. He was not alone on stage. With him was 'a surprise guest from Hungary', Deputy Secretary of State for Higher Education, Mr Zoltán Maruzsa, and it was Mr Marusa who led off, with a strong, upbeat, positive message for the future –

I want to stress that the Hungarian Government acknowledges Conductive Education at home and abroad... and I want to demonstrate that the Pető Institute is totally supported by the Government in its very difficult present situation... There are financial difficulties all over the world...we are very happy that the Hungarian Government is supporting a working group to find a stable solution to the Pető Institute's financial difficulties. 

I can tell today that the first ideas of this group are completed. The Institute is to convert into a state school... The government will have greater financial authority over it... This new structure is supported by the Pető Institute... this happy situation has received a warm welcome from the Minister.

Franz was standing in for Ildikó Kozma, President of the International Pető Association, who had been unable to attend for health reasons, and he was honoured to welcome the audience to the 8th World Congress in her name –
The Pető method, from my mother country of Hungary, occupies a secure position. Believe me, please, that there is very good reason to claim that the Government of Hungary knows full well the value of Conductive Education to children and their families.
Official recognition is secured for the future and we are proud that the Hungarian Government is supporting our development, even though we can barely afford it at the moment.

We are trying to re-establish ourselves in the scientific workplace, and in academe...
Some snippet!
Come the long session's end and the punters seemed well pleased. 

I do not take as many notes as I used to, and those that I do take are even less easy to read than of yore. There was more to that session than I have mentioned here and what I have reported was perceived though the prisms of language and simultaneous translation. I hope that the gist as I experienced it will come across. No doubt others there in that considerable audience will have experienced it differently and taken their own notes. Their amendments and other comments will be most welcome.
I hope that snippets now to come will prove rather shorter!
Online Congress reports
Gill Maguire is collecting reports on the Congress published on line and will publish a list of URLs in due course.



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