A Couple of days ago I mentioned that during discussions with students here in Bangalore the name of Dr Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952) came to the fore. This is hardly surprising as the influence of the eminent Italian educator here in India is significant, and many of our students work in, or have had association with Montessori schools. On reading that day’s blog, Professor Tim Loreman from Canada, a regular respondent, expressed some interest in the relationship between Montessorian theory and the development of inclusion,
Montessori first visited India in 1939 at the invitation of the Theosophical Society in Chennai. She and her son Mario settled in Chennai for a while and began the process of training teachers and fostering their philosophy based upon the creation of nurturing learning environments. Such an environment was first created here in India in a school in Kodaikanal, a hill station in the Dindigul district of Tamil Nadu and in the years that followed the influence of Montessori’s ideas spread across much of the country.
Tim having asked about the relationship between this philosophy and the promotion of inclusive learning prompted me to discuss this issue further with one of our enthusiastic students Sumathi Ravindranath. Sumathi is an experienced teacher and Montessorian who runs her own Montessori House of Children school here in Bangalore. I asked her whether she believed that there was a close relationship between Montessori’s philosophy and inclusion and here are a few of the things she told me.
‘I think that in a Montessori school the child feels that it is his or her space, there is a sense of absolute freedom and independence, though there is in-built structure. The child experiences a sense of self-esteem – I can do something, I can experience what it is to learn. The whole principle of freedom, independence and responsibility is what makes a child function better in a Montessori environment.’
I asked Sumathi whether her school was unique, or did she believe that Montessori schools in general are more inclusive, to which she replied:-
‘I think Montessori schools are inclusive to a certain extent, but not completely. There needs to be an awareness here in India, though Montessori is practiced a lot more in India, but I don’t think inclusive practices are adopted, even in the Montessori schools. My school, yes I think is unique because I strongly believe that opportunity needs to be given to all children. And I feel, Montessori started her work with special needs children, so if it worked then, it should work for anybody.’
Clearly Sumathi has a commitment to inclusion, and has made great efforts to welcome all children into her school. She suggests that her training within a Montessorian philosophy has contributed greatly to her personal commitment to inclusion. However, she acknowledges that not all Montessori schools are perhaps so committed to this inclusive approach. Whether it is therefore possible to argue that the Montessori philosophy is one that fosters inclusion, I am not sure. What I do know is that I have met many Montessori trained teachers here in India who seem to be open to ideas for the promotion of social justice, equity and inclusion. Perhaps there is something about being trained as a Montessori teacher that creates an openness and willlingness to learn.
Maria Montessori herself suggested that:-
“Education should no longer be mostly imparting knowledge, but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potential.”
This seems to resonate with most teachers who feel a commitment towards achieving a more inclusive education system.
The language used by Sumathi is similar to that used on a daily basis by advocates of inclusion, with a focus on the development of pupil self-esteem, independence and an expectation that children can learn when given appropriate support. I am sure that if there were more teachers like Sumathi in schools, whether Montessori trained or otherwise, the path to greater inclusion would be more comfortably negotiated.
Perhaps there are some Montessorians reading this blog who would like to comment.