The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Teachers raise save-the-tot cry
- Montessorians’ plea to world parent body
Personality development, concentration, conceptual clarity
Eye-hand coordination, reading, writing & arithmetic skills through special apparatus
Individual attention in an aesthetically-structured environment
Independence, social and cultural awareness
No exams till six means less burden and better ability to adjust

It’s a Montessori missive — or rather an SOS — from Calcutta, all the way to Amsterdam. Struggling to stem the Montessori rot in town and bring about a semblance of uniformity in the teaching of tots, the sole umbrella body of city Montessorians has decided to move the global parent for review and redress.

Maria Montessori’s time-tested method of first-stop education, meant to give a child “the independence to explore, observe and discover at his/her own pace”, could soon become a dream page from the past, fear child educationists. With most reputed city schools taking in children at three or four-plus, and “half-baked preparatory” institutes mushrooming to cash in on the parental fear of missing the high-school bus, the association had embarked on a structured inspection course of Montessori houses.

But government apathy has now forced Montessorians of Calcutta, the “only nodal organisation of its kind” in town, with around 30 member-units, to turn to the global parent body, Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), based in Amsterdam. “We met the principal secretary in the department of school education, N.L. Basak, last December, seeking government recognition to carry on with our efforts to standardise Montessori environments in the city. But we were told that the government doesn’t recognise pre-primary education,” says association president Vandana Kanoria.

Now, Montessorians of Calcutta is writing to Mario M. Montessori, grandson of Maria Montessori, chief of the AMI, to “apprise him of the sorry state of affairs in Calcutta”. It will urge the global parent body to send its representatives to take stock of the situation and suggest remedial measures. “Perhaps the authorities here will wake up to the enormity of the problem only then,” observes Poonam Jain, association joint secretary.

Early education specialists feel the mad rush for high-school berths at such a tender age is leading to physical disorders like “headache, vomiting and bed-wetting” and psychological conditions like “a lying syndrome, diminished conceptual clarity and a fear of school”.

In the absence of any regulatory mechanism, “unscientific” pre-primary institutions are flouting basic Montessori norms of teaching, “short-changing unsuspecting parents” and causing “irreversible damage” to overburdened children, feels the Montessorians of Calcutta.

“The first five years are the most crucial in a child’s life. It is during this period that he/she forms basic values and has to be handled with utmost love, understanding, care and concern. He/she requires freedom of movement, speech and action, which are all curbed in traditionally-run high schools,” says Kanoria, adding that “the government should ban tuitions at two-plus, which causes great harm to tender minds.”

The association, meanwhile, has visited 20 Montessori houses, issuing certificates to the ones following norms derived from those laid down by the AMI and London Montessori Centre. “But, sadly for the city’s future, there are not many institutions where the Montessori philosophy is being adhered to,” observes veteran child educationist Tapati Gupta.

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