Hungarian technique meets a special need

June 2010


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Auckland-based ZSOFIA OLAH’s journey teaching children with motor disorders began many years ago in Budapest. She shares her training memories and outlines Conductive Education

An early childhood centre in the heart of Auckland offers an educational method gaining popularity around the world for children living with motor disorders.

At IRIS Conductive Education, 90 per cent of the resident teachers have relocated from Hungary to live and work in New Zealand.

The centre was purpose-built to deliver what are known as conductive sessions for children with cerebral palsy and other motor disorders, and caters for children from birth through to 10 years old. Five conductors, two assistants and an early childhood teacher create a fun-filled learning environment for over 30 children.

When Hungarian physician and educator Dr Andras Peto created his unique method in the 1930s, he based it on what neuroscientists have proved via several studies since. Conductive Education (also known as the Peto method) operates from the core principals of neuroplasticity – the lifelong ability of the brain to reorganise neural pathways based on new experiences, along with the premise that no matter how severe the impairment, people can learn and improve when they are motivated.

Conductive Education can be integrated with the New Zealand early childhood education framework. The programme teaches, encourages and motivates children to develop and achieve to their greatest potential and to live a full, happy and productive life.

Teachers of the programme are called conductors – their roles are best defined by a metaphor: they are leading and conducting a complex, busy orchestra – the brain – to play the best symphony possible. Conductors complete a four-year degree at the International Peto Institute in Budapest, Hungary where they train in theoretical and practical studies.

They study Conductive Education theory for different age groups and diagnoses; psychology; child development; methodology of teaching different subjects to children; anatomy; neurology; rehabilitation, to mention a few.

A conductor-teacher diploma from the Peto Institute is the NZQA equivalent of a bachelor degree from a New Zealand university and a diploma of teaching/early childhood education from a New Zealand college of education.

Conductive Education was first applied in New Zealand in the early 1990s. Today approximately 20 conductors work in the country’s 10 Conductive Education establishments. Centres can be found in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Invercargill; they provide programmes for babies, preschool, primary and high school-aged children and adults with motor disabilities.

In New Zealand, conductors work closely with teachers, early intervention teachers or early childhood educators to ensure full or partial inclusion of children into mainstream education and to provide access to the national curriculum.

Practitioners continue to adapt the programme to integrate Conductive Education into the New Zealand culture and our education system.

Inspired to vocation

I was 17 years old when I saw a documentary by the BBC about a little boy, Joe, with cerebral palsy whose family moved to Budapest to get him into Conductive Education.

I was so touched by the film and the way conductors worked with him I decided I had to see if I could be a conductor.

It was a long, hard process to get in to the training course – we had to get through serious academic screening, along with speech clarity, singing and physical ability tests.

Seventy of us were carefully chosen and got in that year, with only 50 completing the fourth year of training in 1993.

It became known among the other university students in Budapest that the girls from the Peto Institute were hard to get a date with because they were either always at school or working with the children.

While it wasn’t easy, by the time we got our conductor degrees we had a serious level of practical experience with different age groups and an additional degree for teaching at elementary schools.

That was around the time when the method received world-wide attention with Princess Diana’s visit to the institute. Conductive Education organisations emerged all around the world, from the USA to Hong Kong.

Due to the huge demand, many of my classmates found work abroad. This is where my journey began that led me 16 years later to New Zealand.