Monday, 27 October 2014


A possible way forward

It is some time since Conductive World touched upon the matter of Conductive Education in relation to the developing world. Since then nothing fundamental has changed, but of course everything is different, both in the developing world and in the developed world out of which Conductive Education sprang.

History has not ended, it has hinged

The four BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) have surged ahead, and begun to pay the penalties. The West has already stood on the brink of the economic abyss and has an inking of what this might mean, for everything. Against this common economic background Conductive Education has (not uniquely) continued its merry way, eyes fixed as before, with little sign of fundamental revision or review of, well, anything to meet what the big wide world world might next sling its way

We all know now that the relative positioning of 'developed' and 'developing' economies is no longer what it was. There is no longer the once-so-obvious division between the wealthy economies, as secure in their presents and futures as they had been in their pasts, and the poor rickety economies of the rest of the world. On the contrary! Perhaps one watershed in this was when the UK stopped paying aid to India. Now India is in space.

In the little world of Conductive Education, indicative that something was on the turn was the period during which one of the major employers of conductors was situated in the oil-rich Middle-East. Never mind how conductive the service that employed them and what those conductors actually did, nor how educational was either. If and when what they did is ever publicly described then that will be the time to judge upon such a question. Whatever the substance of the practice there, however, for a while it was able to announce itself as 'the second largest Conductive Education school in the world'.

For a long time a convenient index of the spread of conductive services has been the employment of conductors, with little or no published reservations on what is actually done – just feel the width. 

Western Conductive Education

Withing this broad rubric, Western Conductive Education has continued on its course (or should that be its courses) in the sometimes distinct and sometimes diverging worlds of varying economies, values, ideologies and social structures. 

In so far as one can generalise:
  • financial constraints have set a severe limits for almost every project
  • parents remain the main energy source driving all this
  • grand plans for major institutions have fallen by the wayside
  • a tiny handful of countries (really tiny!) has accrued a thin network towards creating national presences
  • with very few exceptions the goal of incorporation into state education systems has apparently been set aside, never mind the wider goal of changing education systems and the societal attitudes that they represent
  • some conductive services around the world are trying to exploit a certain softening of hard-line definitions of the inclusion meme 
  • there is perhaps a new trend for small-scale conductive practices, maybe as small as a single conductor working alone, often with the help of untrained staff (before making a knee-jerk, askance response to this, recall as good a precedent as any that one will find in the history of conductive pedagogy, how András Pető got off the ground in Hungary, 1945)
  • perhaps another new tendency is a move away from 'charity' to more openly commercial formal arrangements for maintaining and financing conductive practices – practices often founded by entrepreneurial conductors themselves
  • for nearly thirty years 'charities' have been a preferred model for the institutional development of conductive services in the developed world – long enough to see some of the inherent contradictions and dangers of this form of governance.

China is a special issue with respect to Conductive Education, thanks to the extraordinary historical developments in Hong Kong. So as not to confuse further, this will not be considered further here other than to note that the 7th World Congress, in 2011 was perhaps optimistically entitled East meets West.* 

I do not know what benefit 'the East' derived from this occasion or,contrariwise, how much the trajectory and content of Oriental Conductive Education has been influenced by what it heard from the Westerners who spoke in Hong Kong at WC7, but four years later it seems reasonable to venture a first assessment that Western Conductive Education has been wholly unaffected by the experience of that Congress. 

That notwithstanding, and despite vicissitudes, China marches on, and Oriental Conductive Education continues on its distinct course.

Developing societies

What do we mean by 'developing societies'? It is auch a broad concept, within which there is a desperate gap between the poorest countries, some little better than failed states, and the top-of-the tree BRICs – just as 'Europe' is a meaningless category for considering social-welfare provision (including would-be conductive services) – compare Norway or Germany with Portugal or Greece.

So, bearing mind that there is no single manifestation of either developed and developing economies – and that (very important this) societies on both sides of the supposed distinction may show approaching as much within-group variance as the between-group variance between developed and developing, the situation of one developing country, India, raises points that Conductive Education will inevitably have to respond to within the lifetime of those who might read these words in 2015.

The following points are hardly exhaustive: 
  • The sheer unfathomable numbers of people who might possibly benefit from a conductive approach to their well-being (however provided) is beyond imagining from the standpoint and experience of existing Western conductive practices.
  • The irrelevance of much contemporary conductive practice to the lives and circumstances of this huge population of potential beneficiaries also staggers belief – and the unreadiness of most Western training, practitioners, methods, organisation etc. to match needs arising from such lives and circumstance hardly needs stating.
  • The impossibility of funding anything like relevant numbers of conductors to address such needs, whatever one might do and wherever the money might be hoped to come from, sets a stark constraint on what might realistically be achieved.
  • And who would it be for anyway? It is not enough to say 'India'. Does that mean the cerebrally palsied children, and the stroke-survivors and all the other immediately relevant conditions (including polio-survivors) in the families of the elite. Given the tiny population of conductors who might be trained within existing structures this could alone soak up all the available work force anyway. But now there is also the rapidly emerging economic power of the new middle classes who want all the advantages that they know are enjoyed by people in similar social positions in the West. What about them, with their truly colossal buying power? What happens when they march into the employment market and begin competing to employ conductors on a similar basis to how many are employed in the West ? Perhaps nothing – unless (or until)  the 'traditional' markets of the West start to diminish.
  • What about the hundreds of millions who toil in the villages and exist in the shanties. They have no buying power, but developing a conductive pedagogy to master their uncarpentered space, their different ways of eating, and dressing and disposing of dealing with bodily wastes, their different social contexts and child-rearing traditions, this demands time and experience and ingenuity. Who would pay for this?
In India, as in societies around the world, who cares about the fate of people with paralyses (motor disorders) either congenital or acquired enough to cast around to see what reasonable measures might be adopted, and then politicise for equitable provision? Possibly only parents.

Recipe for progress?

Conductive Education in the West has no obligation to cast a thought towards those who live outside the very few prosperous countries in which it has taken a marginal hold. Its present users have their own, immediate personal concerns, its present workforce have enough to be concerned about with the financial sustainability of their present jobs, its institutions are created to meet specified, usually local purposes, and their largely local supporters may ensure that this remains the case.

There has been innovation and initiative to adapt conductive philosophy and practical skills, and to provide them in new ways, for very different social and material circumstances. One thinks immediately of ventures in South Africa, Peru, and Vietnam, and there are almost certainly more. Amazingly perhaps, one has also heard the qualification 'Of course, this is not proper Conductive Education...'  

Perhaps the adaptations and innovations now more confidently stated than hitherto in Western countries might give cause to fewer unthinking responses of this kind.

When one thinks of a country like India, with Conductive Education still awaiting its dawn, perhaps the clearest pointer to developing socially relevant conductive practices comes from analogies from the historical origins of present-day conductive pedagogy and upbringing in the years immediately following World War II. 

This is the situation out of which a socially relevant practice emerged in Hungary in the late nineteen forties:
  • great, unmet, objective human and social need
  • limited or no relevant services, limited or no relevant knowledge base
  • no relevantly trained staff
  • then someone turned up from another world with some ideas that were novel in this situation, who then settled down to develop a new practice within the circumstances open to him
  • combine this with good luck with the people whom he knew, and with those whom he attracted to his work 
  • he was stubborn, focused, and ruthless,  and he stayed at his job for the rest of his life 
  • and out of this something quite new emerged that had not existed when he began
Whatever happens to Western Conductive Education, this precedent from the dawn of Conductive Education in Hungary nearly seventy years ago seems a plausible model for establishing appropriate transformative and locally relevant practices for the benefit of motor disabled children and adults, and their families, in  developing societies. 

Some might quibble over whether or not practices that might emerge from such a process are 'really conductive' – though frankly, at this point of the game, who cares? 


*   For reflections upon Conductive Education in China, see elsewhere:

Sutton, A. (2011) Last Year in Hong Kong, Birmingham, Conductive Education Press

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Blogger NormanP said...

Norman Perrin .... and out of this imperfect setting, too, came trained staff who were eventually to be known as conductors. I have argued often enough, and quite unsuccessfully, that there is also a training model here, if only we had the courage and were not intimidated by the perceived need for qualifications (which is a separate matter).

Saturday, 3 January 2015 at 14:08:00 GMT  

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