[Please note: This is the speech given by our Group CEO Leonor Stjepic at the 30 year conference of the Croatian Montessori Society. The first part of this speech was delivered in Croatian.]
First, I must apologise. I speak only a little Croatian and I am quite sure that I will make mistakes in pronunciation but I wanted to give the first part in Croatian.
I would like to thank the Croatian Montessori Association for giving me the opportunity to join in the celebrations of 30 years of Montessori in Croatia.
In the press, I read and hear that we are living in unprecedented times. That is not true. If Maria Montessori were to come back today, she would recognise our current world as we are facing the very same big strategic themes that she was facing when she was young. Like when Dr Montessori was young, the world of work is changing – in her case it was from mainly agricultural economies to industrial economies, in our case from industrial to digital. Dr Maria Montessori would recognise a world of social and political upheaval and even of global health issues.
Why is this important? Because it tells us that the need for Montessori is as big as it was when Dr Montessori created her pedagogy and as vital for society.
I believe that the power of Montessori lies in 3 things:
- Her approach is based on science. Between 1900 and 1903, Dr. Montessori worked with teachers who helped children who had a variety of developmental disabilities. As she helped these teachers work with the children, she developed her method for helping the children learn through the development of their senses. Her methods were so successful that some of the children at the Orthophrenic School achieved state exam test scores that equalled those of typically developing school children. This astonished many of those who were responsible for the institutions that isolated these children and labelled them as ‘unteachable.’ Through her research and observation of the children in her schools, Maria Montessori discovered and described the universal nature of child development. This makes the Montessori approach timeless.
- Whilst remaining flexible to cultural needs, the core values of Montessori remain the same everywhere in the world. Whether from Croatia, UK, Australia, Africa or Asia – Montessorians understand and work with children in the same way. We know that all children, everywhere, move through the very same stages of learning and exploration. True, each culture contributes to their growth uniquely, but within each different culture, the growth of the human being follows the same path.
- Like any true scientist, Maria Montessori absorbed and revisited her approach as the world developed around her. The Montessori method was not written in stone in 1907. It evolved as her many published writings show us and continues to remain relevant today and in the future because at its core is the principle of “Follow the Child”. The events of the world around her lead to more developed philosophy around peace education, the natural world and, of course, the main input she received was from the children herself. She noted and realised that the children did not have their own place in the world – they had to fit in an adult’s world. Which is why she created the Children’s House.
The story of how Montessori developed open shelving and the idea of children helping themselves to activities is a good example of that. One day, in the early days of running the second Children’s House, the teacher arrived at the classroom a bit late. The children were already there and, in her absence, they had opened the cupboard where the materials were stored each night. Some of them had taken work from the cupboard and moved it to a table and began to use it. As Dr Montessori tells it, the teacher was horrified that these ‘naughty’ children had gone into her cupboard without permission. As was the custom at the time, she felt the children should have waited for the teacher to provide them the materials and given them direction. But for Maria Montessori, it was a moment of inspiration. From it, the idea of open shelves and free choice of work was incorporated into her method of education. At the Montessori Group we follow this approach of evolving to meet the needs of the world around us, whilst remain faithful to the core values.
Montessori is more than a pedagogy. It is an approach that has the potential to change the world. It has already done so as many of the principles of Montessori are used in early years education around the world. Governments, policy makers, educationalists, businesspeople and families are beginning to understand that what children need to learn today are social and emotional life skills such as creativity, collaboration, problem solving, self-confidence, emotional resilience… The skills that differentiate humans from machines and which Montessori is so good at teaching. I have lost count of the global conferences, meetings and conversations I have been involved in where someone has said “our education system is broken and we need an education that does…” exactly what Montessori does.
Being a Montessorian professional is not a job. It is a responsibility. It is a responsibility because we have the tool to provide the solutions that the world needs and the power to make those changes. We are at a pivotal point in human history and it is up to all of us to understand and take up the challenge to make the future a world worth living in.
Croatia started that journey 30 years ago but the journey has not ended. There is still much more to be done. However, I will leave you with one piece of good news. You are not alone. There are 22,000 Montessori schools around the world and as Montessorians you are all one. As Dr Montessori herself said “We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.”