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A unique approach to education

Aruna Harjani

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Tue, July 3, 2018  /  08:13 am
A unique approach to education

A Montessori classroom is ideally well-organized and uncluttered so that children can feel focused and calm. It is also arranged to suit group activities. (Shutterstock/Dmitri Ma)

Maria Tecla Artemisia Montessori (1870-1952) actually found a solution on how to educate children in a more persuasive method using hands-on materials.

Initially, her aim was to educate special needs children so they could lead a normal life.

After studying medicine at the University of Rome, Montessori conducted research on children with special needs by visiting asylums and observing how the children behaved. In 1900, she trained 64 teachers on how to educate children with special needs. The school became a huge success and received accolades because many special needs children passed their board exams.

Montessori thought that if her methods worked on children with special needs, then why were many non-special needs children failing in school?

In 1906, she was given the opportunity to try her method of teaching with children whose parents worked for a living. She grabbed the opportunity and opened a class. The children excelled in their subjects. From here onward, the Montessori Method was used in many schools.

There are currently several methods used in schools to enhance early learning, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB), the Reggio Emilia approach, Waldorf education and the Montessori Method.

In Indonesia, the Montessori Method continues to be a popular choice for both aspiring teachers and parents.

Leading the movement to improve the quality of early childhood education is the Sunshine Teachers Training center in Cempaka Putih, Central Jakarta, and its founder Sony Vasandani.

Sony has even provided free Montessori training for teachers from low-income backgrounds, especially those who work with special needs and street children.

“Research has proven that the students of today will benefit more from learning through the use of materials rather than the abstract way. The Montessori Method is a systematic approach to teaching them how to read and write, which takes them step by step through materials,” Sony explains.

She further says that a Montessori classroom is filled with materials that are placed on low shelves, making them easily accessible to children as compared to the usual chairs and tables in a traditional classroom with very little or even no materials for them to explore.

The latter uses blackboards and books to explain concepts like big and small, narrow and wide.

“In a Montessori classroom, the children are shown the concepts in materials that they can feel and get a muscular impression from it. Children are free to explore them. They learn the concepts through understanding,” she says.

The conventional system of education is teacher-directed, while the Montessori Method is child-centered.

There are currently around 22,000 Montessori schools across the world. Not all of them are early years as some go up to high school. 

Sony opened the Sunshine Teachers Training center because of a lack of teachers who knew the Montessori Method.

“I was running a few preschools then and I was always in need of teachers. I would always receive applicants who were inexperienced and not qualified or trained. So, they didn’t know anything about teaching children in their early years or anything about Montessori,” Sony says.

“I decided to take matters into my own hands to train teachers. I started by training my own teachers in 2005.”

Sony herself studied at the London Montessori Center.

In the past 12 years, some 2,000 teachers have been trained at the Sunshine Teachers Training center.

“The difference lies in limitation of the curriculum. A traditional school curriculum will teach [the numbers] one to 100 to a kindergarten student. In [a Montessori school], a child has the opportunity to learn one to 1,000 including quantities of four-digit numbers, addition and subtraction,” Sony says. 

A Montessori teacher is called a directress, because she directs the children on how to work with the materials and lets them explore the materials on their own.

A Montessori classroom can have children of different ages. This encourages the older children to help their younger classmates.

Sony has expanded the method creatively to cater to mothers with young children. Workshops, which are conducted both in English and Indonesian, like the Montessori at Home workshop, are available once a month.

“Parents these days find it difficult to handle their children. They don’t know how to deal with their children’s behavior or know how to help their development. Here we encourage their development holistically, so they can be more independent and focused,” she explains.

She adds that participants learn how to “understand” their child and work with them rather than against them.

Popular demand has prompted the center to open an online course, as there are hardly any Montessori training centers outside of Jakarta.

“I thought of making it easier for Indonesians to learn online. A batch of pioneers has already started. In fact, one is from Switzerland and one from Ghana,” she says, adding that the center also has participants coming from Bali, Yogyakarta, Makassar in South Sulawesi and Medan, North Sumatra. 

According to Sony, many private schools in Indonesia have adopted the Montessori Method. However, no state schools are currently applying the philosophy, likely because of lack of awareness and because teachers would require training

“The materials can be expensive, but recently, they have been available locally at a reasonable price,” Sony says.

Learning models what to know

The learning process in early childhood education should use innovative and creative learning models, as well as a combination of various existing learning models tailored to the characteristics of the learners, according to early childhood education expert Elindra Yetti.

Early childhood education caters to the development of children from birth to elementary school.

“The learning approach applied to early childhood education also implements student-centered learning, since it focuses on student activeness, while teachers are facilitators, mediators and evaluators,” explained Elindra, coordinator of Jakarta State University’s master’s program for early childhood education.

The Gandhi Memorial Intercontinental School (GMIS) offers the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (IB PYP), which starts at the age of 3.

According to the school’s principal, A.P. Singh, GMIS is the only school in Indonesia authorized to use all the IB programs.

“It [the IB] is child-centered and doesn’t focus too much on academics per se, but more on activities-based learning through art, games and drawing. The curriculum is project-based and doesn’t use books, but instead uses different references and we encourage students to ask questions,” he explained.

“We tell our parents to encourage the children to ask questions in class. IB opens up the mind. We feel we can draw out the best from the body and mind and characters of the kids.”

Meanwhile, Bambino Preschool and Kindergarten in South Jakarta combines three early childhood methods: Montessori, Waldorf and Reggio Emilia.

The school uses them separately, according to the approach most suited for each student, said Bambino’s principal, Kim Ok-kyung.

“We believe in the importance of children’s holistic development. With the Waldorf approach, founded in 1925, children’s imagination, social interaction and creativity are cultivated as well,” said Kim. 

“Dramatic play activities, puppet shows and outdoor play all promote interaction among peers and adults, giving children opportunities to deal with different social situations. This also encourages children to practice problem-solving skills and begin to understand and accept social similarities and differences.”

The Reggio Emilia approach, founded in 1994, is designed to connect children, teachers and families to the overall improvement of the school system. Here, parent participation is encouraged to promote children’s learning progress. 

“The daily activities of the children are a combination of individual, small group and large group activities; a balance of teacher-directed and self-initiated activities; and exploration of indoor and outdoor activities,” Kim explained.

“We designed a perfect curriculum by combining these three methods.”

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