Education and Home

The Montessori movement in the Philippines

A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven -

(Part 2 of a series on The Montessori movement)

Today, more than ever, the world needs the philosophy and practice of Dr. Maria Montessori whose first preschool was launched almost a century ago in the slum areas of the quartiere de San Lorenzo in Rome.

This “freedom fighter who set our children free” was born in Chiaravelle, Ancona, Italy in 1870 and died 81 years later in 1951 after writing for UNESCO the first document on the “Rights of the Child”.

Revolution in the classroom

The inspired educational ideas of Maria Montessori have taken roots all over the world – in Europe, America, Russia, India, China, and Japan. Through the Montessori system, even the architecture of preschool and elementary schoolrooms have changed from dull regimentation to colorful work activities of Personal Grooming, Care of the Environment, Sensorial, Language and Math, and Cultural Arts (Botany, Zoology, History, and Geography).

Maria Montessori first observed the need to transform education when she watched an Italian classroom of handicapped children. She found that even those who are unfortunate, when provided tangible materials can develop spontaneous interest in learning and self-discipline. Applying her discovery to normal children, allowing her students to progress in an atmosphere of freedom, Dr. Montessori found that they paced their own development through a series of sensitive periods where they became acutely aware of their senses, languages, order, practical work for independence, and society. Her method encouraged these periods to explode into bursts of creativity – reading, writing and passionate curiosity – thereby freeing the mind of even the apparent dullard and giving new scope to education and new breadth to the mind and spirit of the child.

Promoting the cause of the child

My husband, Max, used to remind me that several people get the impression that I favor so much the Montessori system that my writings uphold it over the traditional system.

In the first ten years of the O.B. Montessori operation some media people including television producers even felt that I was “promoting” the O.B. Montessori school like a family-owned business. They failed to see that my intention was neither to seek my own selfish glory nor make money but to fight for the cause of the child regardless of social class, race or religion.

To help the public see what the Montessori system was all about I produced, scripted and hosted two Montessori shows. Between 1970 to 1972, Geny Lopez of ABS-CBN accepted my proposal to exhibit infants from birth to three years old, guided by the Montessori way in Montessori for the Home. This was followed by Montessori for Everyone where I let our Montessori preschool children show the Montessori exercises differentiating them from the elementary school version shown later by the older children of 7 to 12.

Difficulties exist to be overcome

Martial Law interrupted these delightful and very informative shows. It was difficult reviving them when Martial Law ended. For a while, we were part of Ma-an Hontiveros’ Miscellaneous but their messages were in contrast to the Montessori teaching. Uncle Bob’s son was even making us pay to be part of their show. Some newspaper editors would not accept my articles for parents unless I paid, since they considered them advertisements.

During those discouraging incidents, I would recall Dr. Maria Montessori’s comments regarding her critics: “I feel like climbing a ladder while a dog constantly snaps at my heel, barking loudly to pull me down. There are only two alternatives left for me, either to go up the ladder or go down and kick the dog. I choose to go up.”

Montessori also said, “Difficulties exist to be overcome.”

The obstacles redirected me to spread the Montessori teaching in the slum areas. The National Housing Authority (NHA) wanted its Community Relation Information Operation (CRIO) to attract more support in its 32 Zonal Improvement Programs (ZIP) of 400 slums in Metro Manila. Unlike our initial Pagsasarili preschools in Barangay Sangbirhen and Kaunlaran in San Andres, Bukid, I was determined that the NHA-OB Montessori Pagsasarili Preschools would be self-subsidizing.

Between 1983 to 1989, seven Pagsasarili Pre-School Programs were established. The late General Manager Gaudencio Tobias provided us a multi-purpose barangay hall for our use. From the community, the CRIO recruited and endorsed the teachers to be trained. When I became the UNESCO representative to Paris from 1986 to 1987, I reprogrammed the system for post-literacy courses of village mothers in Cadiz and Sagay, Negros Occidental. There was a total of 14 centers.

The evil consequences when Montessori enthusiasm is aroused

Montessori was one of those personalities who was able to arouse a great enthusiasm in her followers. This is a great gift, but not without its dangers.

But, right from the beginning, experience made it clear to Dr. Montessori that mere enthusiasm did not qualify for this apostleship. A true appreciation of the Montessori method could only be obtained after an intimate acquaintance with the various principles underlying it, and in their relationship to each other and the whole.

The 110 weekly Montessori television shows I produced aroused the enthusiasm of the parents of pre-schoolers as well as business entrepreneurs. Since the Montessori training centers were not available, existing preschools made their own Montessori programs without understanding that these strictly require professional training, internship, and management consultancy of two years. A complete set of materials has to be used, averaging then at P30,000.

A post-graduate course in the Montessori philosophy at the University of the Philippines even made some think that lectures were sufficient to become a Montessori teacher. Since regular preschool teacher training only required a summer course of college graduates, I found several of my teachers, who were not rehired after the first year when they did not meet the standards, giving training courses and setting up preschools.

When one of my senior Montessori teachers resigned, she set up her own preschool almost next door to our school in Angeles City. It prospered for a time because she only equipped one of four classes, until the parents realized the deception.

For a while, I tried to give a training package of three summers with at least a summer of internship for teachers from the provinces. I had to stop this since most of them only did one part and immediately after, set up their Montessori preschool, barely equipping it.

Establishing the Italian Federation of Montessori Schools

From 1906, when Dr. Montessori launched the first official Montessori preschool, she never stopped holding teacher-training courses. She was constantly on the move giving training courses in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, England, Australia and the United States of America. Lectures were also given in South America.

To protect the system from casual imitation, important Italian officials from Queen Margherita, Minister of Education, university professors and publishers together supported the establishment of the Enter Opera Montessori at Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle in Rome. Unfortunately, not all countries have national federations.

DECS and SEC working together

In June 1997, the Federation of Philippine Montessori Schools was organized with me as president, Sylvia Lazo of the Montessori Children’s House as vice president, Virginia Morales of the SEED Montessori School as secretary, Maritza Tecson of the Montessori Child Learning Center as treasurer, and Sara S. de Guzman as the auditor. By September, then Education Secretary Ricardo Gloria signed DECS Order 65, “Policies on the Establishment and Operation of Montessori Schools”.

With the DECS Order, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and DECS “shall endorse the establishment and incorporation of any school applying to operate a school using the term ‘Montessori’ as part of its corporate or school name, if it complies with the standards set by the Federation of Philippine Montessori Schools and approved by DECS. SEC, on the other hand, shall only grant corporate name using the term ‘Montessori’ with proper endorsement of DECS.”

(For more information or reaction, please e-mail at [email protected] or [email protected])










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