Wednesday, 11 June 2008

‘Conductive facilitation abolishes itself’

What is ‘facilitation’?

Definition: a legitimate requirement
Rony Schenker writes to ask:

Am looking for some written material on FACILITATION. Gill sent me several references but it seems as if there is very little on this topic and rather unsatisfactory. I would be so happy if you gave it paragraph (or more) on your blog sometime. Eager to here your interpretation.

Students often ask me the same question, not just about ‘facilitation’ but about other such 'conductive words' too. They have searched Gill’s pretty comprehensive Library and looked up the word in the catalogue, hoping presumably (and reasonably) to find something dedicated to answering their question. Or they have tried to Google it. In both instances they run into the same problem: there is no rally satisfactory material specifically on this topic – though they do find various mentions in different places, some of which are informed and some quite misunderstood, at odds with their developing understanding of the process of conduction. The same is frequently the case when they try to read up on other aspects of conductive pedagogy.

Behind this lie two further problems that beset much of conductive pedagogy. First, conductors who do understand this and similar concepts, and manifest them daily in their practice, do not articulate and then publish their understandings in accessible written form. The emerging technical literature on the actual nuts and bolts of conductive pedagogy remains therefore miniscule, ceding the field to those whose understanding may be less than complete – or outright wrong. Secondly, and more fundamentally, there is an issue inherent in the very nature of conductive pedagogy itself. If it is to be really ‘conductive’, bringing together all the systemic aspects of development and pedagogy within a single, unifying process, it is very hard, perhaps impossible, to reduce it to separate components of the process (facilitation for example). Each such ‘component’ (if that is the right term) is inextricably bound up in its execution with others in theirs and, further, the practical execution of all of these will evoke different activities and relationships according to the individual circumstances of the moment.

Complicated? Well yes, dynamic transactional systems always are. To grasp them, first one has to express them in reduced, ideal forms and, while these can then be expressed much, much more simply, it must always be remembered that their practical implementation will be much more complex. That’s one reason that it is such a long, hard job to produce a conductor, in whom such understandings and activities have to be brought together in an intuitive whole – a ‘conductive’ process in itself if ever there was one!

Hence people’s frustration at trying to find clear, explicit and generalisable theoretical statement of conductive facilitation in written texts. Rony’s requirement is a very reasonable one and, if conductive pedagogy is ever to become an acceptable and acknowledged academic-professional discipline, such theoretical formulations will have to be proposed, discussed and widely accepted. So here in response, and at some rush, is what little I can offer to help towards constructing an ‘ideal’, theoretical understanding of facilitation, derived from my own interacting with the conductive system and concretised in a few quotations that I have readily to hand. Inevitably, in the light of what I have written above, these quotations illustrate how in practice ideal theoretical principles are in practice enmeshed or tangled up with other constructs, other activities, within the wider complex whole.

How Mária Hári answers

As on all matters to do with the actual practice of conductive pedagogy, the chief textual source has to be Mária Hári. With the usual warning about too heavy a reliance on exegesis, the following quotations from her work that I have immediately to hand, do hammer home the central meaning of what she means by ‘facilitation’

[The conductor] helps the child to success by means of facilitations. One of her main tasks is to provide the child with experience of success. Facilitation is a device that eventually helps the child to carry out the task independently with less and less aid. Conductive facilitation abolishes itself. (in Maguire and Sutton, 2004, p.36)

For me, that just about sums up the principle involved. Here are some other quotations from her, unclassified and in no particular order other than that in which I have them stored, to hammer the home both the ideal statement and its interconnectivity with other ‘ideals’ manifest in the practice of conductive pedagogy.

The child does not always find the way of doing something, he must be conducted. With the aid of applied inductive facilitations sometimes we obtain the result in a round-about way. On the other hand, after experience of successful movement, we make children aware of the activity that they have accomplished. This means that if the child has carried out the task in some way, perhaps with the help of applied facilitations, we identify the result as a realised task solution. We make the child realise immediately exactly what he has done by relating it to the second signalling system, speech. The child also becomes familiar with his movements by learning to express what he is doing in words too. Children are always aware of the starting point and result when carrying out a task. Inductive facilitation offers an opportunity for activisation, moreover it gives the child the possibility of feeling that he has discovered the solution by himself. By this method his inclination for solving tasks develops. (ibid., p. 39)

Conductive observation serves the following purpose: the conductor can give supplementary information when the child’s own reafferents are not sufficient. The conductor keeps in mind the individual way of carrying out a task and before the next occasion she reminds the child of the right way of doing it. When repeating the tasks she decreases the facilitations until the task tied to the intention is carried out successfully, without facilitation. (ibid., p. 39)

Those who think that they are using Conductive Education and describe what they are doing as preparation of functional skills – and speak about the purpose of motor activity – are misunderstanding Conductive Education. It is intention (without spasticity) that has to be learned, through conscious target-reaching which provides experience, sensation, memory and parametrisation. The teacher helps by education, through guidance and advice. Facilitation is also achieved by self-produced rhythm, dynamism and the group situation. (ibid., pp.101-2)

If the facilitation is equipment of some kind, it is never a complicated prosthetic instrument to which the dysfunctional would become a slave, but a simple object normally at hand. (Hári and Ákos, 1988, p. 196)

Rhythmical intention is another form of facilitation. It has two functions, firstly to make activity voluntary and second, rhythm. The organisation and conformity of a group is principally ensured by the daily schedule. (ibid., 1988, p. 209)
Conduction… one has to provide the right experiences (not just stimulated exercise using various facilitations based on neurophysiology, nor conditioning suitable for taming rats, dogs, pigeons, geese and apes) but through controlled input. (Hári, 1990, p.4)

In this sense facilitation consists not of technical… neurophysiological… or other ways of making it easier to carry out a task; it consists first and foremost of eliciting activity and spontaneity. (Hári, 2001, p. 81)

Again it has to be said, these examples do indicate how the ideal conductive-pedagogic notion of facilitation is in practice inextricably tangled up with others.

What András Pető said

As usual, there is very little indeed that I know of. There is nothing specific in the two books written under the name of Karl Otto Bärnklau, though it may well be that a closer reading than I can offer might find common philosophical underpinnings. I do, however, have before me a document of three-and-a-half cyclostyled pages, in English, from the late sixties. This is called 'Peto's proverbs, or truth in a nutshel' and I have two, very slightly different versions, one under the name of Ester Cotton and the other under that of James House. I once ventured to guess from internal evidence which was the original and got into terrible trouble, so I won’t repeat that error now! Three of these aphoristic snippets concern conductive facilitation:

Always establish least amount of facilitation needed. Corollary: conductor is a failure if she always repeats with the same amount of aid.

Counting always facilitates movement, but movement also facilitates counting.

Help is never given for support, only for direction.

Make of that what you will.

What some others say

This is what Károly and Magda Ákos wrote in an important but never published document (as subsequently rendered into Standard English by myself):

For the conductor, following the task series is defence against tedious repetition of all the postures learned solution of certain tasks It helps her to remember and keep record of the facilitation needed by each child. It helps her to notice instantly if in a particular case the minimal help given can be lessened. The conductor calls attention to the success, not just the given child’s but also the whole group’s. All the children are thus gladdened by the new result as this is an invigorating example for them. The learning achieved as a result of teaching proceeds in the direction of decreasing the help necessary and thus coincides with the gradual growth of independence through the conductor’s conduction. That is why she is called a conductor, not through allusion to an orchestra.

(I have to admit to not understanding the reasoning behind the first part of their concluding sentence here, though I do concur with the second!)

Even the best of academic reviewers miss the fundamental point that ‘facilitation’ involves teaching the will and the means of independent action, not doing something for people who should be learning to do it for themselves. Here is an example in which the contrast or the real meaning of the word is immediately apparent:

Conductive facilitation’ that includes careful observation of each child to meet individual needs and differences is another principle of CE. Conductors allow each child to carry out activities unassisted, but with guidance, support and access to equipment to enable movement to occur. (Ludwig et al, 2000, p. 11)
Small wonder that people miss the point, given the obscurity of much of the literature in which the sense of facilitation and other pedagogic principles lie buried – and as consequence, small wonder too that academic research on Conductive Education is so half-cock

As for myself, I have tried to understand and teach about conductive facilitation as something that occurs within the context of and as an exemplar of the process of Vygotskii’s zone of next development – but this gets harder and harder to do as that concept becomes buried deeper and deeper by the year beneath misstatements and misunderstandings here in the English-speaking West.

It can therefore be easier to explain conductive facilitation in terms of its opposite (‘unconductive facilitation’?), doing things for people, which can be related to the easily understood concepts of learned dependency and learned helplessness. When applied these to the learning and development of disabled children and adults, and their families, I prefer to talk about the destructive effects of taught dependence and taught helplessness inherent in so many prevalent beliefs, practices and ‘services’. But that’s another story.

In conclusion

If you want to hear about ‘facilitation’, as in many aspects of conductive pedagogy don’t just look up the specific, explicit word. Armed with an understanding of the concept seek it out in whatever you see and hear, see how it permeates what people do and say. Here is just one little example, in what the incomparable Zsuzsa Szábo said to newspaper reporter Karen Gold to indicate the different about the conductive philosophy of the Dynamite Project at the Priory School in Slough and what the children might otherwise experience:

Probably, I think, a little bit too much has been done for these children. People don’t want to ask too much from them because maybe it’s going to be too hard. But when they see what they are capable of they expect that throughout the day. You have to think ahead of the child and the capability that child has at the moment. (Gold, 200 4)

I doubt that the reporter or the vast bulk of those who read her article (presumably mainly teachers interested in the education of physically disabled children), had a clue what Zsuzsa meant! Conductive facilitation and its close associate conductive observation have meaning only within this gentle but determined philosophical position.

I do not know whether any of the above really answers you question.. You should have more that enough now to construct your own general theoretical statement of conductive education, with some assurance of where your idea comes from. I would like to think that others will write in to adjust or amplify what I have written here, particularly with reference to the non-English record.

There is of course a further level to the question of conductive facilitation, which I have deliberately avoided here, its subdivision into different kinds of facilitation, its internal taxonomy. Maybe I shall come back to this – or maybe others might like to oblige.

Note for scholars and search engines!

Выготский; зона ближающего развития

By ‘Vygotskii’ and ‘zone of next development’ I mean what are often now found in English as ‘Vygotsky’ and ‘zone of proximal development’


Ákos, K., Ákos M. (1991) Conceptual difficulties in understanding Conductive Education. Unpublished paper

Gold, K, (2004) Independent conduct, Times Educational Supplement (TES Teacher), 27 February, pp. 24-25

Hári, M. (1990) The history of Conductive Education and the educational principles of the Pető system. Paper presented to the I. World Congress, Budapest, 29 November – 1 December 1990

Hári, M. (2001) The History of Conductive Education (Occasional Papers Supplement, no 2), Budapest, International Pető Institute

Hári, M., Ákos, K. (1988) Conductive Education, London and NY, Routledge

Ludwig, S. Leggett, P., Harstall, C. (2000) Conductive education for children with cerebral palsy, Edmonton, Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research

Maguire, G., Sutton, A 2004) Mária Hári on Conductive Pedagogy, Birmingham, Foundation for Conductive Education


  1. Facilitation is… to bring about an action. It doesn’t matter what kind of action initially… whether it is physical, emotional, psychological, cognitive or social. (the list given is not in any of my intentional order) You need to start where the person is at… on all these… and maybe on more levels. (cultural, spiritual, energetic, or quantum level?) The individual’s own genetical make up has a great influence on his/her ability to deal with any neurological condition… and it is different in each and every one us. Facilitation greatly depends upon our ability to observe… what ever there is … to see the person on many different levels… without any judgement attached to it… without any personal interpretation…it has to be pure observation with no opinion to whatever there is presenting itself. Petö talked about operative and progressive observation, which sums it up all for our understanding today… and it is enough now to bring success to the life of the individual. Our observation must expand itself from the individual (micro) to the inherent, exposed and imposed all (macro).
    When one can make a person to become innervated to accomplish any task on any level… facilitation can begin. Our work is about empowering and nothing lower than that. Without that it is conditioning, training or mechanical response.
    Socrates says learning is remembering he was following Plato’s concepts on that. The ‘remembering’ depends upon the conductor’s ability to bring about this ability who ever he/she works with.

    Judit Szathmáry

    Ps. this link might help to understand the process and the concept more.

  2. Correction… As historians tell us and we have to believe them… Plato was born after Socrates. Petö mentioned both for our training. It is worthwhile to read about both philosophers.
    Judit Szathmary