by Jocelyn C. Kintanar, Ph.D.
President, Association of Montessorians in Southern Philippines
The decision of the Cebu City government and the Department of Education to train more than 200 of their pre-school teachers and day care workers on the Montessori approach of teaching young children was a step in the right direction. Contrary to the common belief, the preschool education and not the university studies are the most important years in a person’s life. Investing resources in training these teachers and day care workers is money well spent and will go a long way towards improving literacy, particularly among the underprivileged children.
The greatest realization expressed by most participants who attended the Montessori training program at Oneworld Montessori House was the importance of movement and freedom in fostering the child’s intellectual development, following the child’s natural tendencies and interests and letting the child “paddle his own canoe”.
In her book, Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, Dr. Angelina Stoll Lillard, expressed her belief that the “traditional American schooling is in constant crisis because it is based on two poor models for children’s learning: the school as a factory and the child as a blank slate”. Further, she said that “school reforms repeatedly fail by not penetrating these models.”
Not too long ago, the Sec. of Education, Jesli Lapus, admitted that the Philippine educational system, which is patterned after that of the United States, is in a “very bad shape”. He pointed out that “the quality of education in the country has sunk to its lowest level” and that “the problem is systematic”. An “intervention” during the formative years could be a solution to the problem, he said. The need for retraining of teachers, particularly in English proficiency, “to arrest the declining quality of education in schools” cannot be overemphasized.
Is it possible that the traditional way of treating the child has negatively influenced the learning outcomes? Yes, it is. When teachers were asked on their perceptions of the child, it was surprising that most of them still regard the child as a “tabula rasa” or a blank slate. This philosophical view was advocated by the English philosopher John Locke at the end of the seventeenth century. Perceiving the child as an empty vessel or a blank slate has many implications for schooling, according to Lillard. If the child’s mind is empty, the teacher is obliged to pour knowledge. She does not need to involve the child actively in the learning process because “empty vessels are passive by nature”. Yet, children learn best when they are actively involved in the learning process.
In the traditional classroom, it is common to see children sitting down for several hours while listening to the teacher standing at the blackboard and imparting her knowledge. Most often, the teacher fails to consider the interests, the learning style and learning pace of the child. Being empty vessels, “there is nothing in them from which interests could stem”.
Further, children are not allowed to make choices and decide for themselves. Teachers and School Administrators choose what should be learned. “People fare better when they can make choices about their lives and environments, not when others have all the control. Traditional schooling does not allow children this control”.
In a Montessori classroom, according to Lillard, “ the child decides what to do when, within limits of what is constructive for the child and good for society. Allowing children this freedom gives them experience in making choices, an important skill for life.”
Dr. Maria Montessori described the child as having an “absorbent mind” and that he has the innate ability to acquire knowledge effortlessly given the “prepared environment”. She developed a “system that worked well with children, rather than against them”. She was a strong believer of Aristotle’s philosophy that “Nothing exists in the intellect which does not first exist in the senses”. Lillard indicated in her book that research findings today have largely upheld Montessori’s major ideas on teaching young children based on her empirical observations.
(For more information about Montessori Education, the writer can be reached at Oneworld Montessori House Tel. No. 253-3191 or visit www.oneworldcebu.com)