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Navadisha- Giving New Direction To Learning

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

26 December, 2013

Today there is a great deal of interest in the Montessori Method of learning. Contemporary research and brain scans confirm that many things that Maria Montessori only theorized are in fact true. Montessori education has therefore a deep relevance to society today. If we dream of a harmonious world, every one living in peace and harmony and in a natural environment, we must expend energy on supporting the development of young children through Montessori Method of learning.

Rukmini Ramachandran is a trailblazer in the field of Montessori Method of education in India. She holds an AMI Montessori Elementary diploma having completed her training at the Maria Montessori Institute in London. She further did some course on Montessori training at Toronto to return home and begin the Montessori teacher training in Chennai. She is the Founder Trustee of the Navadisha Montessori Foundation and is currently the Director of Training of the AMI Montessori Teacher Training Course run by the organization. She exclusively spoke to SYED ALI MUJTABA about Montessori Method of learning which she practice and preach. Here is an excerpt of her interview.

Can you give a brief description about Montessori Method of education?

Montessori education for many of us who are practitioner is a way of life, a life in which the child is seen as the most important. Maria Montessori in her writings stated that it was not a method but that it was a respectful approach to the development of a child. Montessori education approaches the child not as a helpless being, but as a powerful creator of the adult. It meets the needs of the child at various stages of development and supports development in appropriate ways. Many educationists have talked of respect for the child. A very special aspect of Montessori education is the freedom of choice, which supports the growth of self discipline and promotes inner motivation. The concept of a prepared environment, specially prepared to meet the needs of the child is an amazingly original idea, a unique contribution by Maria Montessori.

How Montessori Method education is different?

The Montessori approach to education is psychological approach and it is aligned to principles of development set out by great philosophers of all time. It entails respect for the child, a natural environment that is conducive to learning, an education that is sensitive to beauty and social justice, and a teacher who does not dominate.

Do you think the children of Montessori education can compete with their peer in other schools?

It is difficult to generalize ‘other’ schools to mean schools not following Montessori principles. There are too many types of ‘other’ schools and it may be like comparing apples and oranges. The aim of Montessori education is not to compete with peers. Children between 2 ½ to 6 years are to be found in the same class. The children from the time they start school return to the same class for three years. The children form a small community and share all that they know with one another. The value of the Montessori class is to put aside one’s own need to go to the help of another. The aim is to lay the foundation of strength of character. The older child learns to guide the younger and develop patience and the younger learns by watching and admiring the older children. The progress of the children is rapid. They learn making no effort just by being a part of the rich environment. Their development helps them to establish the base of their personalities.

Does a Child take lot of time in picking up the basics threads of education in Montessori system of learning?

Maria Montessori defined education as aid to life. The Montessori approach to education focus is on deepening the understanding of the child through personal experience. Memory is never approached directly. The interest of the child is kindled and the child chooses freely to work at his own development. The child at this stage has the power of effortless absorption. For example a child who grows up around a particular language makes it a part of the personality. There is no fear of forgetting that which has been learnt. The aim of education is not to fill an empty cup but to have faith in the child who has vast potential, and to ensure the conditions in his environment which allows him to absorb everything he needs.

Is it true in Montessori Method of learning children skip the joy of singing and other such activities?

Music is an integral part of a Montessori environment. It is seen as every child’s inheritance. The Montessori approach to music is holistic. Children are not only encouraged to sing songs but receive rich exposure to music in every way so that they can build a relationship with it. Music helps children become sensitive to beauty. It is considered as an aspect of language development. Between 3 and 6 years is the age of effortless learning. This is the time for maximum exposure. The children listen to musical instruments and classical vocal music relevant to their culture. Sometimes Montessori teachers invite expert musicians to share their art with the children. Montessori teachers share songs and poems with children which are rooted in reality, songs relevant to their lives. They also introduce folk rhythms and lyrics.

Does fine arts have special place in the Montessori Method of learning?

In the Montessori environment art is about giving the children the opportunity to express themselves Montessori environment has a great deal of emphasis on the arts. These are however not done as part of a set curriculum. Art in the Montessori environment is imbedded in all aspects of the work of the children. It is not teacher directed. The children are never told what to draw. Art is an expression of the innermost soul. The children are not expected to work with the same things at the same time. I believe that this actually kills creativity rather than nurturing it. With a little guidance, the children work making independent choices and they direct their own learning. Painting, cutting, music and dance are part of the ethos. The children are introduced to practical techniques – how to hold a brush, how to use a pair of scissors, how to apply glue. The children can choose such activities independently and work with them as long as they want. When they have completed something to their satisfaction they put away all the implements as they know where those things are stored.

How did you develop interest in Children's education?

I was offered a job by the Kalki group to edit the new English magazine Gokulam. I was excited about working for children’s magazine. However the job left me with many questions. What do children read? Why do they read? What interests’ children? How can we meet the needs of children? A family friend who was the publisher of Montessori books in India suggested me to do a Montessori course to find answer to my questions. My life changed after doing the course in Mumbai under the guidance of Ms. Zarin Malva, the Director of the Training programme. I felt I had begun to understand myself and others in a much better way. The idea that caught my attention is the idea that interest of the child is the centre of education. I came back and decided to start a school. As the school grew we needed teachers for the school and so eventually 14 years later we started a Teachers training centre.

Can you tell me some basic things about Navadisha Foundation?

Navadisha Montessori Foundation began the activities of teacher training in 2004. The training is affiliated to the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI). AMI is the apex body of Montessori pedagogy and it was established in 1929 by Dr. Montessori to continue her work in its essence and fullness. Navadisha is one of two AMI Montessori courses run in India, (the other one is in Mumbai) and one of 30 or so worldwide. Navadisha has recently run two satellite courses in a modular format in Thrissur, Kerala and in Bangalore, Karnataka. An AMI course is a one year training programme. Courses are offered for two age levels at Navadisha – 3-6 years and 6-12 years. Diplomas for successful candidates are awarded by AMI. The training centre attracts students of all ages, from different corners of India and abroad, and from all walks of life. The students are usually within the 9 months are drawn together in the very intensive programme forming a tightly knit and cohesive community. The link between them is an interest in children and the desire to serve the community through the child.

Can you tell me some basic things about Navadisha School?

Navadisha Montessori School was established in 1997. The aim was to find a new direction in education and to redefine the goals of education. In Navadisha Montessori school the children are helped to be independent from the start. The school tries to create an environment of where teachers, non-teaching staff and children come together to form a caring community. Collaboration and caring for the environment are values that are practiced in all school activities. The school has 3 Montessori environments for children from 3-6 years and from 6-12 years. Stds VI to X follow the ICSE curriculum.

This interview has to be summed up with thoughts from Maria Montessori who says; Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment. The environment itself will teach the child, if every error he makes is manifest to him, without the intervention of a parent of teacher, who should remain a quiet observer of all that happens. While dealing with a child there is greater need for observing than of probing. It is the child who makes the man, and no man exists who was not made by the child he once was.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com


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