Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Big in China

Whatever it is

As regularly remarked in Conductive World, huge interest is stirring in Mainland China, in something called ‘Conductive Education’.

Just a reminder of the sheer scale now of ‘Conductive Education’ in China from a couple of recent tweets on Tweeter, from 1 June 2009:

Conductive Education is very effective in treating Cerebral Palsy kids. LKSF has supported 30 CE centers in China, sponsoring 2000 children.

At one CE center, 1/3 of children were able to walk independently after just 5 months of treatment.

Perhaps rather discourteously I have been writing ‘Conductive Education’ here in inverted commas, because there are no conductors in China and I have no idea what is meant by the term ‘Conductive Education’ in the contexts referred to.

Confounding variables

This is neither to disbelieve the outcomes nor to disrespect the hard work and good heart involved. On the contrary, given the pedagogic/developmental force of these two exceedingly important variables, and not knowing the children’s situations prior to intervention, I simply raise the possibility that benefits experienced reflect more fundamental change in circumstances that those provided by specific practices, whatever these might be.

As far as the children are concerned (and their families if they have any) such benefits are all to the good, whatever it is that has brought them about. ‘Conductive Education’ is how this work is referred to when reported in English. Those two tweets on Twitter represent work in China by just one charitable organization, the Li Ka Shing Foundation.

For the moment, never mind questions about what is actually done under this rubric. Just marvel at the scale of what is being done.

Though what is actually done and what are the actual active ingredients in such interventions (Sutton, 1977) are questions that have to be returned to.


Sutton, A. (1977) Acupuncture and Deaf-Mutism—an essay in cross-cultural defectology, Educational Studies, vol. 3, no 1, pp. 1-10


  1. All I can say about the time when I was involved and worked with the late Dr. Marion Fang, Miss Clare Cheng and also with others at the Jockey Club’s Conductive Learning Centre and in one of the Lord Cheshire Founded Hospitals in Hong Kong that they did everything on a very large scale.
    What was remarkable about working in Hong Kong that they always listened everything very carefully during formal training sessions, they tried everything out without wanting to change them, and once they found that the ideas worked they fully integrated them into their set ups. Working with them was a breath of fresh air. It was in the mid 90’s.

  2. During my modest involvement in the development of ‘Conductive Learning’ in Hong Kong I worked with highly intelligent and hardworking professionals who worked tirelessly to help children, their families, people in day centres and hospitals.
    At that time they not only put serious and well though out efforts into the practice, but they had a well-structured and ongoing compulsory training system.

    Hong Kong professionals in charge and also the ones who were to implement the work, regularly attended the Petö Institute’s run 3-6 weeks long courses.
    All course materials were written up and bound and were available in English and Mandarin in the Conductive Learning Centre’s Library.

    Hong Kong also had ongoing consultancy form the Petö Institutes’ lecturers and Conductive Education experts from the Institute’s Management.

    In Hong Kong the people who were in charge had extensive, theoretical and practical knowledge and understanding of the work of the Petö Institute in Hungary. That was one of the strength of the development and the work in Hong Kong.

    The carefully chosen individuals in charge had the knowledge and the say how things to be run on a daily bases. Hong Kong also had a close network of experts who were in charge of quality assurance and further development.

    I had the privilege to meet and work with Ester Cotton and Dorothy Seglow who first met András Petö in Hungary for a month in 1965 and was in regular correspondence with Petö after that.

    In Ester’s words “ On returning to London I submitted, my report to the British Spastic Society, copying it to Petö who accepted it without modification and asked me to immediately pass it on to “ Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology”…
    The article was published in the Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology (Vol. 7, No.4, 1965)

    Petö also encouraged Ester to set up the first CE unit in England. This is exactly what Ester did and from that point of aspiration she helped to set up Conductive Learning in Hong Kong. Ester took great interest in understanding and writing up the theory behind the Petö System, and also was very much involved in the actual practice and the different facilitation techniques. She was Bobath trained, personally by Bertha Bobath.

    The Petö System and its evolution in Britain, Philosophy. Principles and Practice, Edited by Alexander Russell and Ester Cotton. Acorn Foundation 1994. Page 38.

  3. I have watched and puzzled over the Hong Kongers’ work since I don't know when. To me their most apparent trait has always been their assiduous determination to learn, this seemingly not just an individual trait but something lived collectively.

    I did not myself actually get to Hong Kong till fairly recently and, yes, the first thing that struck me was the colossal scale of everything, and that included the scale of the work that Judit mentions.

    Once past that, I was then again confronted with the determined, personal and corporate industriousness of everything done there.

    Like many others they started from the shaky base of E. Cotton's so-called 'principles of Conductive Education' (neither conductive nor educational, and certainly not 'principles' in any sense of the word). Unlike many others who set of down that road they seem to have moved on from there, to the degree that what they do seems something qualitatively different from the Cottonism from which it sprang.

    If there were a proper process-research wing to Conductive Education (instead of the 'evaluation' nonsense inflicted upon it) then three very important research questions immediately suggest themselves
    !. Has Hong Kong CE practice moved on qualitatively from its historical Cottonism?

    2. Conductors have had minimal input into Hong Kong CE. Do the two differ qualitatively as a result, and if so, how?

    3. Whatever the answers to the first two questions, do the devoted pedagogy and upbringing in Hong Kong produce qualitatively comparable outcomes in terms of orthofunctional living? (Those who can think only of quantitative comparisons in such a context know so little of cross-cultural comparison as to be out of the conversation!)

    It is the third question that is the killer. If the outcomes are qualitatively comparable with conductive upbringing, then the Hong Kongers have cracked it, they have found the crock of gold.


    By the way, Judit and I are talking explicitly about the work of SAHK in Hong Kong. I have no idea whatsoever of what is being done under the name of Conductive Education in Mainland China, a place where things can be REALLY big.

    All of which is reason aplenty for people from the 'old' CE movement to be taking very serious interest indeed in what is going on out East, and wondering just how they might afford to seize the perhaps unique chance of getting themselves to that Congress in HK in December 2010.

  4. Thanks, Judit, for throwing some light on some of how much the Hong Kongers have done over the years to get to where they are now. I would add a couple of other factors:

    - SAHK's extraordinary and explicit whole-organisation commitment to the total task to the upbringing or children (and then adults) with motor (and now other) developmental disorders; and

    - the potential implicit contribution of factors to do with education, family, duty community etc, already inherent to the host culture and now, perhaps for the first time ever, funnelled by the activities of SAHK for the benefit of children and adults with motor disorders .

    I think that we all know from our common experience that no one in the old conductive countries has been in a position to do anything like the former. As for the latter, that is an interesting question that must for the time being remain open pending serious investigation.

    You also mention Ester Cotton. I too knew her, a bit, but I did not find this the unqualified privilege that you did. Even if I had, that would be no basis for judging the effects of her work upon the development of Conductive Education outside Hungary, nor to weigh up the positive and the negative within this.

    This is, however, a somewhat different question, a very important (if usually avoided) one at that. In the summer I shall open up a further theme on this here on Conductive World to see whether, in the twenty-first century, people in Conductive Education have an appetite to confront this. It is not before time.

    Meanwhile, check your myths where the are checkable. That 'extensive' correspondence' has been documented as anything but (see L. Jernqvist's compilation on E. Cotton, sorry cannot at the moment offer you the reference).

  5. My only references are from the book I already mentioned in my previous comment and from Ester herself.
    She writes in chapter 2 titled as ‘The Petö System in England, The first twenty-five years’ on page 38.

    “There now followed a regular correspondence with Petö. I arranged a month leave and was given a scholarship by the Spastic Society to visit the Institute. During this visit I began to learn about Conductive Education and have been learning ever since. Professor Petö generously offered me the use of his room in the Institute so I could observe the children from the early morning to late in the evening”….

    Initially Ester invited me to help with the ongoing training at the Hornsey Centre in London where she was in charge and later she recommended me to the late Dr. Marion Fang in Hong Kong.

    Reference: The Petö System and its evolution in Britain, Philosophy. Principles and Practice, Edited by Alexander Russell and Ester Cotton.
    © Acorn Foundation 1994.Printed by Pygmalion Press, London
    ISBN 1-899091, Page 38.

  6. It looks like you have found a conflict of evidence.

    What are you going to do now...?

  7. I haven’t found it. Have you?
    I think, even if I find it some day I will probably wrinkle my forehead for a very short while and think inside… hmmm there is another mystery, and move onto something really, really interesting and more relevant to that particular moment.

  8. Judit,

    You are right at one level. The two people themselves are dead and the actual events mentioned occurred some forty-odd years ago.

    Except that Peto's work has left a legacy that has not yet been wholly exhausted. Your own life work had depended upon it and long may it continue to do so.

    Cotton's work has also left a legacy, one that have had a contradictory effect upon the developmental of Conductive Education outside Hungary. This also continues.

    Perhaps it is time for us to look explicitly at these contradictions and try to do something to make them explicit (I doubt that they will ever now be finally resolved).

    Perhaps it is tome to stop just furrowing one's brows at this problem and getting on with something more conducive.

    As I wrote above, this thread is not the place to do this. I shall begin another here on Conductive World when I have time to get round it. There is a major problem for every practice that goes under the name of Conductive Education.

    And of course there is no reason why you should not open up a front on this on Sourcesense. By all means take some of my own posting above and this thread of comments to start this off if you so wish.

  9. Andrew… My humble philosophy is that what others are doing or what they have done, or haven’t done is none of my business.
    Everyone has their own very good reasons and their best intention to achieve what they set out to achieve from their own point of view.

    My only business is what I am doing. I am still alive and there is so much I could do and would love to do.

    I cannot see myself being happy by spending time and energy trying to figure out why things went this way or that way and how we suffered…and what terrible things are going on in different projects under the name of Conductive Education.

    There are things, which I really dislike and disagree with and at times
    (silly times) I wish I could just go there... and step in... and tell them how they should live their lives, how they should do or should have done their work… Who am I to do that? What gives me the right to judge especially the ones who have passed away?
    They can’t even stand up for themselves and explain how it was and why did they do what they did.
    Even writing it down sounds ridicules, but I did it just for the sake of the exercise.
    Of course I recognise the contrast and yes at times I get really mad, and I wish that things were done differently, but I use and channel this energy to make me stronger (I always did) and to do my job better in the here and now.
    I brought my blog back to life as after shutting it down I had these
    reoccurring thoughts: you were given resources, be grateful for them and use them wisely…
    On my blog I would be happy to publish any articles, or even just a thought or a sentence sent to me by Conductors who would like to share certain aspects of their knowledge and work they feel passionate about. If they have a burning desire to do so.
    This way we could build up something more constructive for the future.
    They could do the same on your blog too or on any of our bloggers blog if they feel more comfortable with that person. I would find this more beneficial, more exciting and lot, lot, lot, lot, lot more fun.