The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Montessori call for tot care method

They are nobody’s children. Pressured to perform by anxious parents chasing “priceless” high-school berths, coached by tutors to establish “eye-contact” with the interviewer and make “politically correct” noises, denied the freedom to just be themselves, and disowned by the state administration, the tots are often a troubled lot, under severe stress.

Montessorians of Calcutta, the “only nodal organisation of its kind” in town, met school education minister Kanti Biswas last month with a letter highlighting the chaos in the city’s early education scenario, and ran into a stone wall.

“Even though the minister listened to our suggestions patiently, we were clearly told that the government has nothing to do with pre-primary education and that there are neither funds nor rules and infrastructure to bring a semblance of organisation in this chaotic segment,” laments Sonia Barman, president of the association.

If the minister gave the Montessorians a patient hearing, the response at the secretarial level is learnt to have been decidedly brusque, with the one line brush-off being “the government has little time to dwell on such matters”. A knock on the same Writers’ door last December had also yielded zilch.

The main problem area identified by the Montessori body was that traditionally-run high schools were taking in children as early as three-plus and four-plus. This was “curbing their freedom of movement, speech and action” and depriving them of the “care and concern” they need at that special age.

“It has been proved by psychologists that the first six years in a child’s life are the most crucial. Only a Montessori house, whose specialised focus is the 2-6 age group, can provide a congenial atmosphere and the tender nurturing these children need,” observes Vandana Kanoria, ex-officio of the association.

The delegation which met the school education minister suggested that high schools should admit children only into Class I at five-plus “so that the child can get adequate care and individual attention till that age”. It argued that if schools like St Xavier’s and Loreto House could still take in children at five-plus or six-plus, so can the others.

“How can the government adopt a hands-off policy when there isn’t even an authorised body where a pre-primary institution can be registered'” asks Barman. The association, which started a structured inspection course of Calcutta’s Montessori houses last year, sought state recognition to carry forward the initiative, but to no avail. The delegation now plans to take its crusade to the chief minister’s office.

“They are not willing to take responsibility of this crucial age group, nor are they ready to send a delegate to work in conjunction with our inspection team. We are not seeking funds from the government, but how can the Montessori environment be standardised in the absence of any monitoring agency'” demands Kanoria.

The other area of concern is the “unhealthy rush for coaching classes” for two-year-olds. “Parents and kids live in constant fear of high-school entrance tests. This would automatically die down if schools stop admitting children below five,” asserts Jayati Ghosh, principal of Joyland Play Nursery and KG School.

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