We’ve all seen the tear jerkers like Taare Zameen Par, where children are hurt by India’s rigid educational system and their parents’ traditional approaches to learning. We’ve been moved to tears by every IIT/IIM alum an on earth deciding they were pressured into going that route and deciding to write books instead (why God, whyyyy?). So as a parent to a child, I guess the question definitely comes up – should we send her to school at all?
A comes from a traditional educational background. I won’t drop names, I’ll just say he could very well have been one of those aspiring author types from paragraph one himself. He doesn’t believe in the system, to say the least. I’ve eavesdropped on several conversations with his classmates and they all seem to agree that the educational system in India is, at best, pointless. Listening to their experiences – the amount of homework they were given, the expectation that success followed rote-learning, I can’t help but agree.
That said, I had a very different experience with schooling. My parents introduced me to the Montessori environment when I was two and a half. It is the only form of early education I have ever known, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved going to school, I felt like I was challenged and yet supported too.
Sidebar: Yes, this was 30+ years ago. Yes, there were Montessori schools around then. Let me just get this out of the way for the ten thousandth time – Montessori education isn’t a new fad. It isn’t a buzz word schools add to their names in order to hike up their fees (well, yes, it is, but that’s not what Montessori actually means). People older than me are products of early Montessori learning too; Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the co-founders of Google, to name but a few.
Okay, so my school made me happy, and A’s school didn’t make him happy. Of course happiness is an important measure of a system working, but what else? Now that it’s been over a decade since we graduated, do I think it makes a difference that I went to a Montessori school and he went to a regular one? Is he less coherent? Am I better at communicating, more logical, better with my hands – some of the things that Montessori places an emphasis on? Hells, no.
Despite the relatively narrow scope of his school’s syllabus, he is well-read, well-rounded, and among the smartest people I’ve met. Agreed, we’re only two people, hardly a statistically significant number; but I will say this: being part of the regular education system doesn’t mean the intelligence you were born with gets compromised. If you’re intelligent, you’re intelligent, and there’s very little that can change that. Similarly, and I say this thinking of many people I know personally – being part of a Montessori system doesn’t guarantee academic success. How does being exposed to a Montessori methodology help then? Why pay 3-5x more for early education in a Montessori environment?
Whether for lack of an authentic Montessori around you or lack of funds, you may decide not to go with a Montessori school for your child. But regardless of how you choose to educate, I think the principles of Montessori, those things that caused that elusive feeling of ‘happiness’ in me as a child, are worth following, at least at home. They’re believed to spawn a creative elite, a confident set of go-getters. Maybe they do, and maybe they don’t. Because I’ve been exposed to these for as far back as I can remember, they just seem like common sense to me, regardless. Here’s a quick list of the things that I value about my early learning experience, and consider ‘true Montessori’:
- A healthy child:adult ratio so that children are observed and guided individually, based on their learning abilities and interests. Respect for individuality is key.
- A collaborative environment, where learning flows in all directions. Children learn from other children in a mixed age group, teachers learn from children on occasion too.
- Giving the child complete freedom, within set boundaries, so they can learn to do things for themselves (and, by extension, learn things for themselves too). Access to child-size equipment wherever possible to further encourage this.
- Taking cues from the child at every stage to see what interests them, letting them choose what they want to work with and how they work with it (provided it’s respectful of the environment)
- Free indoor/outdoor movement in a safe, open space
- Hands-on learning from observing the world around them, especially in the preschool years. This means exposure to real, solid objects as much as possible.
- No comparisons, extrinsic rewards, punishments, or talking down.
- Promoting a sense of order and respect for each other
…Treat children like people. Treat an individual child like an individual person. Give them the space to discover who they are and what they like. Be around if they need help. Enjoy the privilege of watching them embark on their journey. Seems pretty basic, doesn’t it? I can vouch it makes all the difference.
(If anyone’s interested, I may do a few more posts on my experience in the Montessori system as a child, in college/the work space, and for my child. Comment/email if you’d like that).