Cutting vegetables carefully, rolling out the mat and putting back things mindfully. These are daily scenes from a Montessori environment in rural Tamil Nadu.
The Swami Dayananda Matric Higher Secondary School, Manjakkudi, houses a Montessori section which was inaugurated in 2019. The key elements of the Montessori methodology include mixed age classrooms (2.5 years to 6 years), choice of student activity from a prescribed set of activities and a discovery model where students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than direct instruction. The idea is to provide a 360 degree education to students from rural India.
As part of its efforts to mainstream this educational pedagogy in rural India (Manjakkudi), three teachers from the school, Ms. Ramya, Ms. Buvana and Ms. Vasanthapriya embarked on a three year AMI Montessori 3-6 diploma course programme conducted by Navadisha Montessori Foundation, a premier institution that focuses on imparting Montessori training.
“The Chairperson and Managing Trustee of Swami Dayananda Educational Trust (SDET), Ms. Sheela Balaji was very keen to have a Montessori environment in a rural area,” says Ms. Judy Nagarajan, honarary director, academics, administration and human resources, Swami Dayananda Matric Higher Secondary School, Manjakkudi, Tamil Nadu. The main aim is to provide hands on experiences for school beginners from the villages.
The teachers began their journey in April 2019 and successfully completed the first year course at the Navadisha centre in Velacherry. The course components included segments on practical life and theory of child development.
The pandemic did not deter the learning spirit of the teachers. The curriculum moved online where the teachers studied about language, mathematics and culture via digital platform. At the end of the final year, the teachers were awarded certificates at a valedictory function that was held in the Navadisha premises in Velachery, Chennai, on 26th May 2022.
Impact on Ground
The students in the school have whole heartedly embraced the new model of learning. “When they started working with it, the academic staff was concerned whether the students would be able to adapt to this model. But slowly, we found they became independent. This system has age appropriate activities that aids in overall physical and mental coordinations,” says Ms. Padma Raghunathan, principal, Swami Dayananda Matric Higher Secondary School, Manjakkudi, Tamil Nadu.
While the students embraced the new medium naturally, many parents felt early school education was incomplete without text book and notebooks. The school authorities quickly swung into action and convened a PTA (parent teacher meet) and made them understand the beauty behind Montessori. “They soon welcomed and appreciated this Montessori method,” recollects Ms. Padma Raghunathan. In fact, during the lockdown, some parents were anxious that their children could not perform classroom activities on a daily basis.
A Success Model
The challenges in educational delivery notwithstanding, post Covid, there have been 40 admissions in Montessori during the current academic year (2022-2023).
The power behind the Montessori method say its practitioners is that by repeatedly doing activities with materials, the process of self-learning and self-awareness gets internalised amongst the students. Over a period of time, these practices are carried back home with students expected to be aware, keep things in place after use and keeping their surroundings neat and tidy at all times. The Montessori curriculum thus focuses on positive character building from early on.
The Montessori teachers have given a thumbs up to this model and extended their gratitude to the school management for offering unstinted support in making this curriculum a success. “During the first year (April 2019), when I came to Chennai to attend the course, everything was new to me. I learnt things slowly and whenever there was any doubt, I clarified it from the trainers in Tamil at the end of the class,” recounts Ms. Ramya Sivaraj, a Montessori trained teacher.
Another teacher, Ms. Buvana N. warmly recollects how the team went from shop to shop in Chennai buying and gathering materials as a precursor to the training programme. It wasn’t easy for Buvana to embrace a new mode of learning during the second year. “I had difficulties in embracing the digital medium initially but then I managed to do an online submission and complete my second year.”
The SDET management and school staff share a special word of appreciation to Ms. Rukmini Ramachandran and her team at Navadisha Montessori Foundation in supporting the training of our staff and in facilitating the set up of a Montessori environment in rural India.