Thursday, 22 November 2007

A Conductive Education archive

Lost and found
I still receive enquiries about the possible availability of materials from the former websites of the Foundation for Conductive Education, the Conductive Education Website and Conductive Education Online (there was a change of name from the former to the latter in September 2003 as part of a general upgrade). I am particularly asked about postings on the very lively original Conductive Education Discussion Forum and the news of the conductive world reported in the Conductive Education Chronicle.

I am pleased to report that the news is fairly good and a massive amount of information is still retrievable, chronicling the development of the worldwide conductive movement during the later phase of the internationalisation of Conductive Education. I did in fact report this on the ‘new’ forum, on 28 August 2007. As the new forum is now off line I am republishing the information here on this blog.

The Internet Archive and the Wayback Machine

The Conductive Education Website and Conductive Education Online, both including the original Conductive Education Discussion Forum and Conductive Chronicle, are stored in remarkable entirety in the Internet Archive, which is run in collaboration with the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress. It is nice to see Conductive Education so formally accessible through the same site as the Great Library of Alexandria!

The archive is openly accessible, free of charge, by way of the Wayback Machine search engine:


All you have to do to find any ‘dead’ website is to enter its URL in the space provided and press the button “Take Me Back”. In the case of Conductive Education Website and Conductive Education Online you will then find lists of dates when they were updated over those years. Clicking one of these will take you instantly to the font page of the site requested as it was when it appeared at the time (barring some of the graphics in very early issues).

To make the fullest use of this facility in searching the Conductive Education Website and Conductive Education Online you will have to know that they went out under three different URLs:

Sometimes the site was revised on all three URLs, sometimes on just two, and sometimes on only one – don’t ask me why! If you are looking for something around a particular time, therefore, it is best to search by way of all three URLs so as not to miss it.

Browsing these old pages

Once you are back in time, you will find that internal and external links can be followed up in the usual manner. The site can be a bit slow at this point. Be patient, the Archive does have more than 85 billion pages to search through!

Internal links can be followed on to secondary links – all the way, for example, to individual job adverts and particular letters and replies on the Discussion Forum.

This is a remarkable facility. The service can a bit hit and miss in finding every posting on the Discussion Forum at first try but, if you do not get through first time, go back later and try again and you may well be lucky. These are more than two-thousand discussion postings in store, with an alternative way of searching through them.

External links also still work, though you may find that some of these are now dead, being no longer live on the Internet for whatever reason. You can of course use the Wayback Machine to resurrect them but to do this you will have to know their URLs.

Conductive Education Website News

Conductive Education Website News was an associated e-mail update that ran from 2000 to 2004, sent to subscribers to inform them of new developments reported on the site. From 2001 onwards its back numbers were archives and are also accessible through “Take Me Back”, by entering the URL of its archive:


Again the Wayback Machine can be rather hit and miss when bringing up individual issues of this update – but if you persist you will get through to at least some of them.

Now and then

Some of the contents of the Conductive Education Website and Conductive Education Online live on in different ways, their wording incorporated over the years (usually unacknowledged!) into all sorts or websites and other publications. The originals comprise a remarkable historical resource for future historians, accessible with a bit of patience and providing a unique window on to an important few years of the internationalisation of Conductive Education. Older readers might find that a visit offers a trip down memory lane, with forgotten names and the sounds of bitter and distant battles. Newer readers will see that as ever the more things change the more they remain the same, and that events reported at the time may not have occurred precisely as they are now recalled.


My thanks to Elliot Clifton for first drawing my attention to the Internet Archive.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Conductive Education and Feuerstein

I will be in Israel next month, to take part in the Twentieth Anniversary Conference of Tsad Kadima, the Israeli Parents’ Association for Conductive Education.

This will not be a Conductive Education conference as such but, organised in collaboration with the European Bobath Tutors’ Association, it concerns cerebral palsy – in its social and temporal dimensions.

The particular fascination of Tsad Kadima and its practical work over the last twenty years has been for me its stress and focus on children as members of their families – and its unique achievement of creating services that recognise children’s and families’ broad-based and long-term requirements for upbringing rather than simply programs or provision. Tsad Kadima’s concerns and some of its achievements are well represented in the extensive conference programme, published on the Internet.

I am told that it is not too late to book!

The published programme does not, however, include details of a late-entrant contribution, a key-note address by Reuven Feuerstein, which addresses a theoretical point of ultimately even greater and wider significance, reminding me of how and why I stumbled across Conductive Education in the first place. He will talk about the parallels and congruence, practical and theoretical, between Conductive Education and his own Structural Cognitive Modifiability. Such parallels, with Feuerstein’s system and with others, have been ignored by the conductive movement at large, to its serious detriment.

For me, Feuerstein’s brush with Conductive Education offers a rare manifestation of a dimension of thinking and practice that astonishingly, in the twenty-first century still follows a largely underground existence in Western psychology and education. Conductive Education, Feuerstein, Vygotskii, the troika and the whole cultural-historical school, Zazzo and Paour, the people around ‘dynamic assessment’ and ‘cognitive education’, even Piaget and Inhelder if you try to see their intervue clinique through other than blinkered Anglo-Saxon eyes, have commonalities at the meta-theoretical level with enormous potential implications for the future of humanity.

Conductive Education and Cognitive Modifiability therefore represent part of a wider meta-theoretical community, albeit an atomised one with no common voice or image. Reuven Feuerstein will be speaking about how these two systems at least might synthesise, to create more that the sum of the parts.
This is what he will say…

Conductive Education and Structural Cognitive Modifiability

A common trait and an added component

Reuven Feuerstein

During my first encounter with a brief presentation of the Pető System and Conductive Education, that occurred through the much appreciated intermediary actions of Dr Andrew Sutton, I was struck by the close affinity between the Conductive Education program, and the theory of Structural Cognitive Modifiability and its derived applied systems. The belief in modifiability common to the two programs was a very powerful basis for the intervention programs developed and applied by both systems. The theory of Structural Cognitive Modifiability was then considered as addressing itself mostly to the behavioral and mental aspects of human activity, including of course the conceptual and operational activities of the human being, and to the emotional-motivational element, but without the possibility of modifying those neuro-physiological processes that affect the mobility of the individual muscular-skeletal system – the disability of children with cerebral palsy. The idea that modifiability can affect the motor system has not only been a great surprise but has enabled us to perceive the concept of modifiability as being much broader and much more inclusive than we ever thought possible. It empowered the concept of modifiability as felt by us over the last two decades. Our belief in modifiability, once limited to cognition and behavior, has proven to be extended to the neural system, that is no less plastic than behavior itself. Modifiability is a phenomenon of human change affecting the neural-skeletal-muscular system, the cognitive system, and the neurological system.

This propensity of modifiability affecting all the three systems also requires application of interventions oriented to the three systems. Mediated Learning Experience, which in Conductive Education has proven to be a source of ingenuity and creativity, enabling invention of an unlimited number of forms of interactions between the conductor and the child, is certainly the key to the source of success. It seems to me, however, that the system has to be coupled with a strong cognitive component, which is no less necessary for the child with motor difficulties, to enable Conductive Education to be applied effectively to children whose deficiency is not limited to the neural-skeletal-muscular but also involves cognitive, intellectual and mental processes.

During my long discussions with the late beloved Dr Mária Hári, former director of the Pető Institute, we actually planned the possibility of mutual enrichment, by bringing in the components of each system, the conductive and the structural cognitive, as a way to turn modifiability into a multi-dimensional, multi-system mode, bringing the human being to a level of modifiability which will permit full adaptation to life and its requirements.


For details of Tsad Kadima’s Twentieth Anniversary Conference, go to: (in English and Hebrew)

MacPeto and the real McCoy

There was a big spead in the Daily Record on 19 November, featuring the Scottish Centre for Children with Motor Impairments (the Craighalbert Centre).

If you take what I am going to say as criticism of the care and effort taken by staff at that centre then you mistake my purpose. I know very little about their work. Certainly the individual cases described in the article present happy processes and happy outcomes for the children involved and their families. Those who would like to formulate their own developmental hypotheses from this are welcome to do so and will find Margaret Mallon’s complete report on:

It’s a nice, vivid piece of journalism, to the general public benefit of the Scottish Centre. I neither criticise this piece quâ journalism nor question the underlying reality that it reports. It would be unforgivable to judge what happens at the Scottish Centre on the basis of a feel-good report in a tabloid newspaper.

What concerns me is less the specifics of this story than what it says along the way about Conductive Education in general to Joe Public who reads it – and perhaps even cuts it out at puts it away for some future reference.

I read that this ‘unique Scottish Centre is giving youngsters with debilitating conditions… the chance to reach their full potential’, as if potential is something already there inside them, rather than waiting to be created out of pedagogy and upbringing. A fine but fundamental point, this, but it is a shame to situate Conductive Education publicly so firmly in the existing paradigm, missing such a good chance to emphasise the new.

Perhaps this is just as well, however, when the Scottish Centre’s practical and theoretical bases are described. Conductive Education was ‘divised by András Pető, who believed that a damaged brain could be taught how to make movements by repeated exercises’. Really? The children are ‘given tasks to do, such as repeatedly moving a stick from below their waistline to above their heads, an action they need to dress themselves.’ How does this all work?

…a senior team member [not a conductor], said: "It's all about teaching them repeated actions so they can take little steps that add up to big steps.

So much for conduction. So much for pedagogy and upbringing!

Does any of this matter? In itself, not a jot. The story is already on the way to being this week’s chip paper (if that’s still legal), though of course it will lie on the public record, available everywhere in the world, for years to come through the Internet. Story after story like this, however, especially if frpm purportively authoritatative scources, together erode and corrode the message that those in Conductive Education have to get across to would-be users, to congruent professionals and to decision-makers, if there is to be much chance of the term ‘Conductive Education’ being treated seriously.

I’ve given the URL for the full story above. If you haven’t already done so, visit it and judge for yourself. As for me, I look out for similar such formulations of what is Conductive Education. As they emerge I shall bring them to wider examination, as fairly as I am able, through about the only medium open to me, this blog.

Perhaps if more people were to treat such misunderstandings in similar ways…

In case you are wondering, the Scottish Centre for Children with Motor Impairments was created out of the direct intervention of Michael Forsyth, Margaret Thatcher’s little loved Secretary of State for Scotland, in response to vocal and widespread agitation from Scottish parents to do something about Conductive Education. There was a General Election in the offing, he earmarked a budget and, following long horse-trading with existing institutions North of the Boarder, the then Scottish Education Department finally announced the terms of reference for the new centre, to be built at Craighalbert. The Scottish press coined the term ‘MacPeto’ for this centre.

The Scottish Centre would ‘combine the best of present Scottish practice with the principles of Conductive Eduation’. It did this initially without conductors on its staff, though there are conductors there now. Whatever Michael Forsyth’s original intentions, his initiative appears to have precluded subsequent creation of other conductive programmes in Scotland.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Cerebral palsy: some hope

Cerebral palsy is a permanent disability that affects movement. It results from damage to the developing brain, usually before birth... There is no pre-birth test, no known cure and, for most, the cause is unknown. People with cerebral palsy may also have seizures, and sensory and intellectual impairments.

Just another tiny example of what again and again society tells parents of children with cerebral palsy, and not just parents, but those employed to work with the children and their families, the social organs that pay for this, and ultimately of course the children themselves as they develop their own awareness of themselves.


Ask parents about Conductive Education, and so often the spontaneous answer is ‘It’s given us back hope’.

The absence of hope is despair. How dare anyone have robbed fellow human beings of hope? Who could do such a thing to cerebrally palsied children and their families. To deny hope is to help create despair.

What sort of thing is hope, is it psychological (an emotion) or philosophical (a value, a guiding principle)? Or in hope are the two inextricably mixed? One of the paediatric references that comes up again and again in ‘reviews of the literature’ on Conductive Education levels the accusation of ‘false hope’.

Is it really possible, however, psychologically or philosophically, to have ‘false hope’? Emotions and values are neither true nor false... they are what they are. They might be judged by others to be feigned, misguided or whatever, but to state unproblematically that they are ‘false’, as if nothing further needs considering about the matter, is glib and disingenuous.

What is the opposite of ‘false hope’? Presumably, ‘true despair’.

Ask a hostage released from months of isolation in terrible solitary confinement, ‘What kept you going? Didn’t you feel that people outside have forgotten you, surely you knew that you were going to die, that your position was hopeless’. The survivor’s answer often includes ‘hope’. The the ex-hostage is lionised for his strength of character, and everyone rejoices for the wonders of the human spirit and its role in facing the most daunting adversities. And we remember with sadness those who ‘lost hope’, turned their faces to the wall and succumbed.

When Conductive Education ‘gives back hope’ to those from whom it has been taken away, it is not hope of ‘a cure’ but renewed hope that the family may again take control of this child’s upbringing, and exercise direction and choice rather then succumbing to an inevitable, unescapable, biologically determined outcome.

Developmental disorders

Everyone now knows, surely, that developmental disorders are ‘dislocations of development’, in which certain developing children’s active interactions with their social and material worlds are systemically interrupted and their learning and development diverted. If, for example, certain children cannot hear like other children then nobody questions the enormous developmental effects of their not being able to participate in the social world. Given this, modern society makes sure that the children’s parents appreciate their children’s prognosis at the physical level but, in responsible, civilised countries, the relevant organs of society immediately get going on the psycho-social interventions that will help reset the ‘dislocation’ with the world.

Try a silly substitution exercise, like the one that I did in my previous posting (‘Conductive Education fantasy’, 13 November 2007). You can, if you wish, be pretentious and call this a ‘thought experiment’!

Just substitute the term ‘hearing disorder’ for ‘cerebral palsy’ in the quotation that heads this posting. This is what you get:

Hearing disorder is a permanent disability that affects communication. It results from damage to the nerves of the auditory system, usually before birth.... There is no pre-birth test, no known cure.... People with hearing disorder may also have seizures, and other sensory and intellectual impairments.

And that’s it. Not a word the important things that happen as psycho-social consequences of the hearing loss, nor of the psycho-social interventions that and (should) be made to create ways around these., about amplification, parent classes, deaf education, signing, the deaf community etc., etc., etc. Nothing about the active choices that families and young deaf people will face in the years ahead.

No one involved in bringing up children with hearing disorders would stomach such a stark, hopeless message of despair. The voluntary societies and the professional associations would be up in arms.

So what about cerebral palsy?

Few people think that cerebral palsy can be cured in the biological sense of the word. Those that do can and should be gently disembarrassed of the idea. This is not a question of hope but of ignorance and should be dealt with through education towards a better understanding of how things work.

This is not to say that the developmental effects of cerebral palsy, its secondary and tertiary psychosocial sequelae, should not be countered by every means possible, as happens for example when a child has a hearing disorder. Somehow or other the various conditions marshalled under the umbrella rubric of cerebral palsy are often perceived as somehow different. Either there’s no real special need at all – which seems an important component the present official position in the United Kingdom (more of this perhaps at some later date) – or the whole condition is somehow explained (and dealt with) by consideration at the ‘physical’ level.

Actually the two positions are complimentary rather that mutually exclusive. They both depend upon a predominantly physiological (what I think is meant here by the word ‘physical’) understanding of the situation and what could/should be done in response. They are both therefore reductionist with respect to human mental development and, by marginalising of turning totally away from the psycho-social nature of motor disorders (essentially no different from the psycho-social nature of all developmental disorders), they block off appropriate response to what is happening, they deny hope, they are inhumane and destructive of human good.

The reason for airing this topic here is that I have just received an email, a perfectly reasonable enquiry from someone working in a large voluntary organisation providing services for children and adults with cerebral palsy, and their families, in an English-speaking country.

It was not the enquiry itself, however, that seized my attention, and holds it still, but what I read following my innocent correspondent’s signature at the end of the email. Like many corporate bodies this organisation takes the opportunity of the thousands of emails that its staff sends out every day to hammer home what it regards as an important message, at the foot of each letter following the individual employee’s signature. Elliott Clifton advises me that this is also called a signature – or less confusingly, a ‘signature block’.

I suppose that there may be ethical issues to be raised here about corporate and individual opinions but these are not my concern here. This is what this corporate message said:

Cerebral palsy is a permanent disability that affects movement. It results from damage to the developing brain, usually before birth... There is no pre-birth test, no known cure and, for most, the cause is unknown. People with cerebral palsy may also have seizures, and sensory and intellectual impairments.

The dots in the middle of the quotation (...) indicate where I have removed a sentence. I did so because this sentence revealed the name of the country. Perhaps I should be less squeamish (old habits from a life in the system die hard: I hope that even now I can still learn to be more outspoken).

But oh dear, with friends like this what hope for an understanding of cerebral palsy fit for the twenty-first, rather than the nineteenth century?

And without a proper developmental, systemic understanding of cerebral palsy and other motor disorders what hope for Conductive Education?

Signature blocks, like everything else that falls into the hands of corporate marketing, run a high risk of simply making the email, its sender and the organisation, look naff. see:

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Conductive Education fantasy

Did you catch this news item last week?

Published: 05/11/2007 - 12:39:51 PM

The Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls was urged to take decisive action on cerebral palsy by backing a national strategy and a ten-year plan of action on cerebral palsy and motor disorder.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls was spelling out his plans for education at a conference in London over the weekend.

He was urged to support a national strategy and a ten-year plan to include fundamental changes in supporting children with cerebral palsy and motor disorder – this includes conductive units in mainstream schools, better training for teachers and classroom assistants, building specialist conductive schools among other important issues.

Hundreds of organisations, community groups, parents, carers and people with special educational needs are writing to their MPs backing the call of the Conductive Education Campaign UK for a fully comprehensive debate on special educational needs.

The Children's Secretary Ed Balls and Shadow Secretary Michael Gove are being asked to support a full SEN debate in Parliament.

Dr Vincent Cable, Acting Leader of the Liberal Democrats, has pledged to do more for people with cerebral palsy and motor disorder. The campaign has all-party support in the Palace of Westminster.

Cerebral palsy is a neuro-developmental disorder. According to estimates over 500,000 people in the United Kingdom have cerebral palsy.

Researchers have suggested that around some two or more in a thousand children may have cerebral palsy. It is now one of the most serious education and health issues facing the nation.

The Conductive Education Awareness Campaign UK is urging Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Her Majesty's Government to act now in order to cater to the needs of children and people with cerebral palsy – if no action is taken it could place a great deal of pressure on public services. Campaigners say that a ten-year plan is absolutely vital.

No, I didn’t make it up. I copied it down verbatim, except that I took out the word ‘autism’ and a few things that went with it, and substituted some others relevant to Conductive Education and its concerns.

Silly exercise? No, I don’t think so in that it reminds us just how far Conductive Education has fallen out of the public gaze over the years, following what for a short time looked like an unstoppable political campaign. Twenty years ago, look where Conductive Education was in the country’s media and look back to the political furore, from Margaret Thatcher down, that surrounded it. What were the relative public positions of Conductive Education and ‘autism’ then, and what are they both now?

What have the autistic people done right over the intervening years? More to the point what have the conductive people done wrong? Was it the Balkanisation of the parents’ movement, dodgy research, conductors’ failure to create a national professional presence, the destructive activity of the Spastics Society (now Scope) or what? There are reasons aplenty to account for the political failure of the political movement for Conductive Education in the UK.

Comparison between the two sectors, even pace public recognition of the sterling work of people like Magdi (previous post), shows the colossal leeway that has now to be made up after failure to maintain the initial explosion of public awareness and enthusiasm. . A couple of countries, New Zealand and Israel, show that the long haul is possible.

So, what’s to do in the countries where this is not happening to generate the sort of political pressure for change that I parodied above?

You tell me.

If you’d like to read the original report you can find it on (‘news for the public sector and beyond’) at:

Congratulations / gratulátok...

…to Magdi Kóvács who is senior conductor at the Rainbow Centre in Fareham in Hampshire, UK, and is this year’s joint winner of the title ‘Special Needs Professional of the Year’.

The award is presented annually by the magazine Early Years Educator magazine

All part of the slow but essential drip, drip, drip respectablisation of Conductive Education in the United Kingdom

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Conductive Education: New forum / új fórum

Not that many years ago there were some nine or ten Conductive Education discussion forums on the Internet. One flourished but most never really got off the ground.

Now in 2007 all of those forums have died and disappeared.

Till today I knew of four public CE forums set up in their stead. To be honest, none is really flourishing.

Now there is a new one, and at first sight it seems to be off to a good start, It’s called the Konduktív Pegagógiai Szakmoi Fórum (‘Conductive Education Professional Forum’), Konped Fórum for short.

It has ambitions plans to extend beyond the functions of a mere discussion forum. For the moment, if it takes off, it will offer a potentially useful window on to the public world of Hungarian-speaking conductors. Find it at:


And an awful lot to learn 
Trainer in Conductive Education, community-based rehabilitation project, Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, China (Job advert on Internet)
Just another job? On the contrary, this advertisement poses important questions about the ever-widening internationalisation of Conductive Education.

CE and the developing world

I have long contended that fundamentals of Conductive Education represent an ideal means for developing ways of thinking of practical services in the developing world. Conductive Education demands no expensive, hard-to-maintain hi-tech equipment, depending instead upon the one resource that the development world lacks and the developing countries have in limitless abundance, a plentiful supply of inexpensive labour. After all, did not András Pető first develop Conductive Education in a country that was at the time in straightened circumstances?

From this initial proposition of Conductive Education’s considerable potential for countries in the first stage of creating humane and effective services for disabled children and adults, and their families,an enormous step still has to be made from the present situation to what might potentially be developed.

First, we have a Conductive Education situated firmly in the developed countries, with ideas and practices to suit – and even within this context, available in most of those countries only to more prosperous and articulate families. We should also remember that the expression ‘Third World’ was coined at the time of the Cold War, to cover those parts of the world (most of it!) not actively engaged in that conflict. In some respects, socially and economically, the former Soviet Block is still struggling to catch up and some of what is written below about the situation of Conductive Education might also apply there too – though perhaps in a particular way. This is too big a side issue to cover here.

So how to apply this approach to the desperate needs of the myriad disabled amongst the world’s poor.

There are obvious meta-problems. There are often economic and political barriers to implementing anything in such contexts. Developing countries are mainly poor and traditions of public service are often poorly established. Then, looking back at the history of developed societies when we were evolving our own health and education services and their specialised wings, one sees a typical historical sequence over the last century-and-a-half. Family-based (as opposed to residential) services for physically disabled children tend to appear fairly late in the process, and their widespread uptake has to await provision of universal basic education and health care. We cannot expect newly developing countries to buck such priorities.

I am not sure the best expression to use here: not knowing any better I use the broad term ‘developing countries’. ‘Third World’ seems to have dropped out of fashion and anyway it is fairly meaningless now that the world is realigning. Some refer to ‘the South’ as opposed to ‘the North’ but developing countries are not confined to the Southern Hemisphere and not all developed countries are in the Northern one.

Whatever term is used, developing countries constitute no monolith, representing a broad range of different levels of economic development, its dynamic and its present potential – never mind their myriad cultural and other social dimensions. Further, within a given country there will be in varying proportions, the poor, an emerging middle class and an elite, with their own distinct notions of how to meet the perceived needs of their families.

These broad social and historical factors, and possibly others too, are essential background to formulating schemes to transfer Conductive Education out from the developed countries that currently host it.

Problems for Conductive Education

Whatever Conductive Education’s ultimate potential as a basis for understanding disability and founding services in the developing world, the general problems outlined above have been enough to confine Conductive Education's remarkable internationalisation  largely to the developed countries. This is not to ignore the interest and enthusiasm of parents, professionals, NGOs and other bodies situated in developing countries, who have spotted this potential for themselves, particularly through Conductive Education’s dynamic presence on the Internet -- confusing and inaccurate that much of this presence may b!e Much of this enthusiasm remains unsatisfied  as it has in most developed countries – leaving ready ground for unsatisfying displacement activity. 

There are three major, interrelated issues.
  • First is articulation of what constitute the fundamentals of Conductive Education. This runs far deeper than, for example, ‘good practice guides’ based upon what is done at a particular time, in particular social contexts. By definition such guides are not transferable in either time or space, even sometimes over a surprisingly short time or to different circumstances within a single society. Such formulated models may prove of  limited benefit when crossing between different societies within the developing world. They may be of even less help, perhaps to the degree of being actively misleading, when they cross between societies that differ more radically. The opening statement to this posting stressed that it is the fundamentals of Conductive Education that are at issue here, not some of the ‘Conductive Education as she is spoke' that has evolved to match the constraints and opportunities of existing niches in developed societies. Identifying such fundamentals has not as a whole featured in Conductive Education’s transfer between developed countries – to the detriment of everyone involved, such transfer being often based upon upon frustrating attempts at literal transposition of established ways of working, and/or upon unconvincing explanatory ‘principles’ that miss the fundamental point.
  • The second, and this is in no way unique to Conductive Education, is to find ways to exist and develop in new contexts without committing the perennial foreign-aid error of imposing existing forms of service rather than working towards ways of synthesis with new cultural realities. At the same time, Conductive Education is not value-free. Its identifying principles include belief that people can and must change, and that this is done as a result of human agency, through a single, unified agent (the conductor) where motor-disorders are concerned. Synthesis with indigenous ways of doing and thinking cannot mean subordination of conductive values and practices, where for example these include passive-defeatist understandings of human potential and a determined atomisation of human learning to reflect existing ('multi-disciplinary') service structures. Again, there is little by way of a model of satisfactory achievement in this respect to be found in the story of Conductive Education’s spread across the developed world.
  • Third of course is the overriding imperative that any ‘technology transfer’ involving Conductive Education should maintain the essence of the conductive approach. If Conductive Education aspires to recognition as a pedagogic or rehabilitative technology – and to all the advantages that accrue from this – then of course its defined technology has to be there from the very outset of transfer. There is no point in passing on to poor countries some sort of pseudo-CE, unjustifiable ‘principles’, a simulacrum – what the unkindly call Mickey Mouse – however sincere the beliefs and motives with which this is undertaken. It should be an important guiding principle to all such transfer, be this  in Conductive Education or of anything else, that the poor do not deserve the second rate. Again, Conductive Education has spread amongst the developed countries without showing  much ability to deal with this problem.
The experience of the developing world in dealing with such issues offers little in the way of a pointer to guiding more radical transfers, across greater economic and social divides. Just perhaps, however, better-handled transfers of Conductive Education to the developing countries, if these can be arranged, might help make the processes involved more explicit and therefore offer something from which everyone could learn and benefit.

The process of transferring Conductive Education across Europe and onwards to ‘Europe overseas’ has hardly been an example of cultural sensitivity or technical efficiency. Nor have most of us in the developed countries much to show by way of Conductive Education spreading to all strata of our own sometimes highly stratified societies (how many of the thirty-odd conductive programmes in the United States, for example, are black- or Hispanic-led?). Hardly a good experiential base for considering how to make the far greater jump to the circumstances of the developing world – or even for the future of Conductive Education in the developed world if it continues to proceed merrily along the same old paths.

Internationalisation of Conductive Education to date has shown little inclination to consider possible lessons to be learned from comparative education or technology transfer. Perhaps the sheer unfamiliarity of transfer to, say, Tibet or Sub-Saharan Africa, might prompt a wider view of issues that the whole conductive movement has been unthinkingly involved in. Perhaps.

Limited experience and knowledge

Despite personal enthusiasm to break Conductive Education free of its current narrow social-economic milieu my own practical experience of this has been very limited. Over the years I have had visits from and discussions with all sorts of people who would have liked to establish conductive projects in developing countries. For the most part these projects have come to nothing, falling in most cases at the hurdles of lack of money and lack of institutional support.

I was involved, however, nearly ten years or so ago with a project that did nearly make it, proposed and planned in some degree of practical detail in collaboration with the Spastics Society of Chennai (formerly Madras) in Southern India. This had a lot going for it, institutional support and the same sort of powerful, informed, parental steer that had been so important in driving the spread of Conductive Education in the developed countries. There was the recognition that progress would be long-term and set within a developmental strategy that stretched all the way to creating an Indian version of conductor-training, related to what would be by then evolving Indian modes of practice. There was even sufficient funding in place to initiate the pilot stage of this work, providing for a couple of conductors to work together on what were, by Indian standards, princely salaries. The whole scheme fell at very the starting line. It fell because at the time, at the end of the nineties, there were simply no conductors to be found willing to countenance salaries that princely merely by the standards of the developed world. Those who were involved with conductive education at that time will know what I mean.

Ten years is a long time in the internationalisation of Conductive Education and many conductors today are of a different mould, with many expressing regret that they do not have the chance of working in such a project. Unfortunately that particular moment is past.

(Actually, Tsad Kadima, the Israeli Association for Conductive Education, followed up with a fortnight’s workshop in Chennai the following year, but that is hardly the same) and there is still no Conductive Education in India. Yet.)

So my personal involvement in attempts to introduce Conductive Education to the developing world has been reduced to the level of a spectator in a spectator sport

There have been other attempts to establish conductive programmes in that huge range of circumstances subsumed under the term ‘developing countries’. Tsad Kadima established a scheme in collaboration with the Palestine Red Crescent but that blew away with the first Intifada. There were three conductive summer schools in Cairo but these have not led to anything more permanent. Something is astir in the oil-rich Sheikhdoms of the Gulf. The first conductive project there, the Conductive Education School of Kuwait, has caused its fair share of excitement in the conductive world. Proper understanding of those particular circumstances must await the dust’s settling. Notwithstanding, linked conductive projects are envisaged in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the Emirates. There was also to be something in Iran but this vanished into the mysterious Pető zone, a black hole from which traditionally no light has escaped, and nothing further of this project has been heard.

I am not sure whether to include Mexico as a developing country in this respect. Development of the conductive centre there has been outlined in Recent Advances in Conductive Education – read it and judge for yourself. Also in Recent Advances is an account of the development work that led to establishing a centre in Brazil. There is no question about Brazil’s being a developing country – but like many other such it is a diverse one. The European-style conductive service now running in Florianópolis in the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina might hardly serve the needs or disabled children and their families in the favelas in say Rio and São Paulo.

Then there is the experiment in Sizanani Village in South Africa where conductor Zsóka Magyárszéky has been working for some three years. I have before me as I write Adri Vermeer’s recent book Health Care in Rural South Africa: an innovative approach, waiting for me to review it for the upcoming issue of Recent Advances in Conductive Education. I will not therefore deal further with this here.

Witness to the potential enthusiasm amongst the new breed of conductors to go out and be conductive pioneers are two committed individual personal programmes. In their final years undergraduate training at the National Institute of Conductive Education, Stephanie Driver and Hannah Davies undertook practical field work and wrote their dissertations on feasibility studies for developing conductive programmes in Vietnam and the Dominican Republic respectively. Supervising these projects provided me with sharp reminder of Conductive Education’s potential for human benefit in most unfamiliar social and economic contexts, and of the need to adopt radical and questioning approaches in order to develop culturally appropriate conductive practices. Now qualified, both are working their divergent professional paths towards finding situations to realise their aspirations.

There may well have been other conductive projects in developing countries that I have missed here.

On a very different scale, and not involving any conductors at all, there is China, as ever a very special case and one that might affect us all, in respect to Conductive Education as everything else in our lives. This too is far big an issue to deal with here – and, as far as Conductive Education goes anyway, possibly not directly related to what is happening in Tibet. This too, therefore I shall be addressing elsewhere.

And there is something else that I do not know whether should be included here, the series of programmes run by Hungarian Baptist Aid (HBAid), a religious body involved in humanitarian aid and international development. A specialty of HBAid is a programme that it calls FLAME (standing for ‘function, language, and movement education’), describes as ‘adopting the famous Hungarian Pető method [and] prepared by our staff in several countries of the world’. For the sake of sustainability, in addition to direct work with the disabled, FLAME field projects also involve training for local staff. This ‘FLAME’ is apparently unconnected with the long-established conductors’ programme of the same name at Treloar College in England. The Baptists’ work, like much else in Conductive Education, remains undescribed and direct enquiry has elicited no response. Since 1997 HBAid has applied this programme in an impressive and growing number of developing countries: Albania, Algeria, Cambodia, Former Yugoslavia (Kosovo and Serbia-Montenegro), Iraq, Jordan, Mongolia and Vietnam, with training material published in local languages (at least in Khmer and Vietnamese). But how ‘conductive’ is it and have conductors been involved in its formulation?

And so to Tibet…

The advertisement that prompted this discursive posting is for the position of 'Trainer in Conductive Education', in Lhasa in Tibet, published on the website of Handicap International Belgium (HIB), a large international aid organisation based in Brussels. This very informative website provides the information from which information of the Conductive Education project planned there, and commented upon below, has been extracted and ordered. Here is a taster 
Specifics: high altitude (3600 m); weather conditions difficult, cold in winter; accommodation in a hotel; social isolation, rare entertainment and difficulty travelling out of the city (permits required).
One could hardly think of a job in Conductive Education more justly deserving of the over-used description ‘challenging’!

See the Notes and References at the end of this posting for further access to this advert.

Handicap International Belgium

HIB is the Belgian branch of the much larger Handicap International. This is a non-governmental organisation specialising in disability, non-governmental, non-religious, non-political and not for profit. Since its inauguration in France in 1982, seven other divisions have been created: in Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada and the United States.

HIB works in a number of countries. It has been active in Tibet since 2000, in collaboration with the Tibet Disabled Persons Federation, a semi-governmental organization. In that time activities have included a community-based rehabilitation project in Lhasa City and an orthopaedic workshop, developing a Tibetan Sign Language and a physiotherapy project. The community-based rehabilitation project currently provides social and physical rehabilitation services to children from Lhasa City, including home visits, activities at a community centre and encouragement of support for social integration through school inclusion. It organises disability-awareness sessions, and trains village doctors. Eight rehabilitation workers work full-time on the project, plus a programme manager, a team-leader and a technical advisor.

Children benefiting from this project mainly have cerebral palsy, the after-effects of polio, clubfoot, hip-dislocation, spinal-cord injury, muscular dystrophy, cognitive delays and/or behaviour problems. There also appears to be preponderance of children with physical disabilities served by HIB’s other activities.

The rehabilitation workers and physiotherapists (their backgrounds are not clear from the advert) have been trained on various subjects, and the majority of their clients are children with cerebral palsy. As a result these workers ‘have acquired today quite strong knowledge and experience on different methods used to improve the functionality and the integration of those children’.

So where does Conductive Education come in?

HIB would like to widen the types of services offered and the kinds of methods used, to provide better quality and more varied treatments and services 
Therefore we thought that training in Conductive Education, adapted to the local situation (no day-care centre but a rehabilitation centre and a community centre), would allow them to provide other kinds of services (such as group activities) than the services they are currently providing (that are, at least in the Rehabilitation Centre, more centred on individual treatments).
Group activities are already organized by the rehabilitation workers and volunteers in the community centre but a proper training would allow them to organize those activities in a more formal and probably efficient way and also provide them with better-defined boundaries.
For the physiotherapists of the rehabilitation centre, Conductive Education would bring a wider approach (more holistic approach or a ‘life style) on the management of cerebral palsy than what they were trained so far. Training them on such a method would complement well their current knowledge and fill some of the gaps left by their past trainings.
So far so good. It is at this point that issues such as raised earlier in this posting are vital background to practical planning. The post as advertised indicated how seriously such matters have been considered by this major aid organisation.

What will be required of the 'Trainer in Conductive Education'?

The advertised position of Trainer in Conductive Education is for work with the community-based rehabilitation and physiotherapy projects, to the trainer will do¸ train the eight rehabilitation workers in the community-based rehabilitation and two of the physiotherapists, in the following 
  • theoretical basis of Conductive Education (history, definition, principles, advantages)
  • practical training to organise and run group activities for children with cerebral palsy
  • practical training on organisation and conduction of group activities for adults with other kinds of motor disorders
  • organise a final test.
Along with this the successful candidate will also have to 
  • design equipment for (presumably local) production, purchase and adapt local equipment and ‘provide support for room adaptations’
  • produce (or make available) reference and training material on Conductive Education (in English)
  • write an end-of-mission report, to include explanations and comments on the organisation of the training and recommendations for further development of the services provided by the two projects (equipment, organization, training…)
And who will do all this? The advert makes this clear too: ‘A professional (PT, OT, teacher, educator) specialised in Conductive Education’. One knows what the first three of these are. ‘Educator’ is less obvious, but probably represents a too-ready translation from the French educateur, someone a bit like a British nursery nurse or youth worker but more highly trained (akin to a Russian vospitatel’ or a German Sozialpädagog). No matter, it is hard to know how any of these four professional backgrounds could meet the extraordinary high requirements of the job in the most ideal of circumstances.

But perhaps maximal knowledge is not so important, since the total duration of the mission is planned to be only two months…

So, what to make of this?

I have to admit to contradictory personal reactions – some plus, some minus.

Plus. How wonderful it is that a big organisation so eagerly embraces Conductive Education as a means to achieving its goals, an organisation dedicated to the vision of ‘a world in which all forms of disabilities can be prevented, cared for or integrated, and in which the rights of people with disabilities are respected and applied’. How different this is from so much of the world of ‘disability’ in the United Kingdom.

Minus. What possible vision of Conductive Education is this project based upon? Where did HIB get this vision? From HBAiD? Are the substance and the practice of Conductive Education really so reduced in the eyes of the world that they seen to be applied and transmitted with some apparent ease?

Plus. All the same, something that HIB must have read or heard has suggested that Conductive Education would be a progression from what it already provides in Tibet, offering ‘a wider approach… than what they were trained so far… fill some of the gaps left by their past trainings.’

Minus. But how on Earth can this be reconciled with scraps of something or other provided by professions with no revant training in this approach themselves?

Plus. But what a wonderful opportunity, even at this late stage (applications formally close at the end of this week) for an adventurous and imaginative conductor to go out and start exploring what might potentially be achieved in that context, in the only place properly to do so – in practice. Please somebody apply, convince HIB that if it’s really Conductive Education that is wanted then conductors have something to say about this. Go to Tibet and get stuck in – learn from your inevitable mistakes and then share what you learn for the greater good.

Minus. What extraordinary circumstances in which to expect anyone to do all this! It is altogether impossible to train people to do and be what the job requires – never mind do all the other things – in anything like the time specified, even under optimal circumstances. And these circumstances are hardly optimal. Consider the demands of acclimatisation (cultural as much as physical), possible sickness, altitude fatigue (3600 meters above sea level – that’s 12,500 feet), unforeseeable language problems, and the inevitable need to discuss, discuss, discuss if there is to be any real communication of Conductive Education. All within two months!

One could go on batting such arguments back and forward but to what purpose? If HIB finds some one to take up this position then the project will presumably go ahead. One must wish well for the Tibetan children and their families and everybody else involved – but this is not to detract from this to fear the implications for Conductive Education. After all, Handicap International is a large organisation and, if the conductive project in Tibet is deemed a success when implemented in the manner intended, what other such ‘Conductive Education’ schemes might be mounted elsewhere in the world?

A problem for Conductive Education in the developed world has been that its introduction often meets opposition from existing professions and institutions – turf wars in which the newcomer is inevitably in the weaker position. Perhaps Conductive Education might fare better in countries without entrenched services and practices. Against this it should be said, however, that existing models of thinking about disabled children and their families, and constructing intervention services, are already knocking at the doors of the developing world. There is unlikely to be a tabula rasa anywhere and the best that one might hope is a narrow window of opportunity. Further, as the project in Tibet suggests, Conductive Education might arrive in a new country to find itself already defined, erroneously, with bitter situations already well known in more advantaged contexts waiting to be reenacted…

Conductive Education at the roof of the world? Invigorating waymark along the worldwide expansion of Conductive Education – or urgent alarm call to alert to new dangers ahead, and do something about them?

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Some onward links

The Tibet project

Handicapped International Belgium:

HIB's Tibet project, the job and how to apply:


For reflections around Conductive in Brazil, see Leticia Kuerton’s  blog:
The early development of this project:
Kuerton, L. (2007) Hungary, Mexico, England and Brazil: one family’s experience of Conductive Education, Recent Advances in Conductive Education, vol. 6, no 1, pp. 3-6.

South Africa

The Conductive Education project at Sizanani Village

Vermeer, A., Wijnroks, l., Zsóka Magyárszéky, Zs., Mbethi, N. (2006) Effects of Conductive Education in a home for children with developmental disorders, Recent Advances in Conductive Education, vol. 4 no 2, pp 9-20

Vermeer, A, Templeman H. (eds.) (2006) Health Care in Rural South Africa: an innovative approach, Amsterdam, VU University Press

Mexico and Kuwait

For brief reports of establishing the Mexican centre and setting up the Kuwait school see:

Millan, M., Gaja, S. (2006) Bringing CE to Mexico, Recent Advances in Conductive Education, vol. 4 no 2 pp 21-23

Szatmáry, J. (2006) Conductive Education School Kuwait: a paradigm of reality. Recent Advances in Conductive Education, vol. 4 no 2 pp. 32-32


Hungarian Baptist Aid’s FLAME programme:

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