Semmelweis UniversityConductive education, a life-changing learning method for children with neurological disorders at Semmelweis University’s András Pető Faculty

Conductive education, a life-changing learning method for children with neurological disorders at Semmelweis University’s András Pető Faculty

There is an institution in Hungary committed to improving the quality of life of children and young adults with neurological disorders. For over 50 years, the unique method of conductive education has made hundreds of people with such disabilities in Hungary and all around the world become independent and integral members of society. Semmelweis University’s András Pető Faculty trains internationally recognized professionals of conductive education whose expertise is highly sought after everywhere around the world. In the academic year 2021/2022, András Pető Faculty launched an English language Conductive Education BA program to grant access to this authentic methodology for international students, who are committed to making a difference in the life of people with disabilities. In our interview, Dr. László Matos, Deputy Dean for Educational Affairs talks about the birth of conductive pedagogy, its key features and what the international BA program has to offer.

Although András Pető Faculty has been part of Semmelweis University only since 2017, the history of the institution dates back to over 50 years ago. How did education start and where is it now?

At the beginning of 1950, András Pető founded the first Conductive Education center, which was the predecessor of the András Pető Institute of Conductive Education and College for Conductor Training in Budapest, Hungary. In 2017, András Pető College was integrated into Semmelweis University and was renamed András Pető Faculty. Today, it provides conductive care to individuals with motor disorders and offers training programs for future professionals of Conductive Education. Conductor training started in 1963 and since then it has been upgraded to a BA degree program. The conductor BA has a strong practical basis and prepares students to be all-rounded educational professionals with a multidisciplinary and holistic approach.

The faculty is named after Dr. András Pető. Who was he and what was the basic idea behind the foundation of the institution?

The founder of conductive education was born in 1893, in Szombathely, Hungary. After studying medicine at the University in Vienna and working in various hospitals in Austria, András Pető became an experienced neurologist. He started to work on the neurological motor development of children with cerebral palsy, whose condition had previously been thought to be irreversible. However, when he started using a well-balanced combination of motor therapy, special gymnastics and breathing exercises, the children’s condition started to improve. Through his professional and personal achievements, Pető proved that despite the damage, the nervous system is still capable of forming new neural connections, which can be activated with the help of properly guided teaching and learning processes. This is where the name Conductive Education comes from.

What is conductive education?

Conductive education is a comprehensive method of learning which enables individuals with neurological and mobility impairment to learn to perform actions consciously that healthy children learn through normal life experiences. Conductive education encourages children to become problem-solvers and to develop a self-reliant, versatile personality that fosters participation, initiative, determination, motivation and independence. Children with cerebral palsy have a neurological condition, mobility impairments and in most cases a set of associative conditions that affect their ability to process information and learn. Conductive education builds on the development of physical functioning, communication, cognitive functions, social interaction, experimentation and the complex interaction of these​. Therefore, the method aims to make children understand and use their abilities and limitations while providing them with the holistic development of their entire person.

What do conductors do?

Conductors work to empower children and adults with neurological or acquired disabilities by making them aware of their goals and guiding them onto the path leading to these goals. To get the best possible results with each individual, conductors tailor the complex pedagogical program to special needs. The program builds on the basic need of children for play, therefore the activities are designed to include singing and rhymes. These promote motor and speech education, self-care and support kindergarten and school education. These specialized learning strategies are regularly done one-on-one and in groups and the activities involve the exploration of the learning environment facilitating social interaction and communication. Conductors look at each child as a whole person with infinite capabilities, desires and power, whose potential can be unlocked by conducting them onto the path of independence.

Conductors work with children in different settings, where they can learn how to perform daily activities, such as reading, eating or speaking, increasing their awareness of their abilities and limitations. The skills required to overcome the challenges of everyday life are broken down into small steps, are organized into sequences and are repeated multiple times to turn them into routine tasks. In order to achieve the best results, children must have numerous opportunities to practice such tasks. Therefore, their families are actively involved in their development and practice at home based on the conductor’s suggestions.

What is the goal of conductive education?

Part of the program builds on group activities to stimulate the senses through social interaction, active learning and task achievement. The holistic approach of conductive education encourages not only the physical development of coordination and motor functions, but the psychological and social aspects of independent living through personality, language and speech development, emotional exploration and social interaction. Conductive education is built on the assumption that the damage to the central nervous system causing motor dysfunction can be overcome by specialized learning strategies, which allow the nervous system to build new neural connections. This suggests that motor disorders are the results of learning disabilities, therefore children are encouraged to become active and conscious participants of their own education. The ultimate goal is to enable these children to perform tasks on their own and to make them independent as much as possible.

What are the major features of the academic program?

The conductive education program is eight semesters long and is highly practice-oriented offering a Bachelor of Arts degree. Students acquire a strong theoretical basis in pedagogy, psychology, the anatomy of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. They will be able to put their multidisciplinary knowledge in practice when designing complex development plans tailored to individual needs and groups. Our students are resilient, open minded, flexible, capable of managing demanding situations. They also have excellent communication skills that they are able to use adequately when working with children and cooperating with their families. Graduates of the faculty earn a degree with high market value as their unique and multidisciplinary skills are widely recognized and sought after all around the world.

What is the most inspiring memory that you can recall from your personal experience?

Many years ago, I met a 4-year-old child. She was brought to the kindergarten of our institute in a wheelchair. She could hardly take a step by herself, and 10 years later, when I met her again, she was easily walking along the corridor using only a walking stick. I could not believe, what conductors have managed to achieve in her development and how they have changed her life. From a wheelchair-bound little girl she has turned into an adolescent capable of taking care of herself independently. This is the true miracle of conductive education: children learn how to understand their boundaries and to use their abilities so that they can live their lives to the fullest.

International students interested in the Conductive Education BA program can visit the site of Semmelweis University’s András Pető Faculty for detailed information on the academic program, entrance examinations and tuition fees. Now, the university also offers a scholarship for international students that covers tuition fee, provides an allowance for accommodation and other expenses.

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