Fifty years of unlocking the child’s hidden treasures
A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven (The Philippine Star) - October 18, 2018 - 12:00am

(Part II of ‘In Search of the New Teacher’)

Dr. Maria Montessori’s real claim to our gratitude lies, not so much in the invention of a new method of education, but that she has revealed to us many and beautiful traits in “normalized children,” – traits so unexpected and so new that many writers coined the phrase, “the new children.” Like navigator Christopher Columbus, who discovered the “World Without” (America), Maria Montessori discovered the “World Within”: the world within the soul of the child.

The ‘forgotten citizen’ the child

According to Dr. Montessori, “the child has been considered as a non-entity by the adult, a plaything, a disturber of peace.” Though the child has certain inalienable rights as a citizen, these rights were unrecognized by adults in the past. This was why Montessori spoke of the child as “the forgotten citizen.” It is only when he enters Grade I that he gains economic value. 

During the 50th anniversary of Operation Brotherhood Montessori Center, we looked back on how Dr. Montessori’s system has helped us unlock the childhood’s hidden treasures to awaken the genuine sustainability of the country.

In 1964, Oscar Arellano, president of Operation Brotherhood International (OBI) relocated 3,000 squatters from the Intramuros ghettoes to Sapang Palay, and he convinced me to set up the O.B. Sapang Palay preschool. This interested then Italian Ambassador Rubino, who gave me a grant to train at the famous Montessori teacher-training center for preschoolers in Perugia. The center was founded by Dottoressa Maria Montessori herself. Later, I received a British grant to specialize in Montessori Language Arts in London, England, as arranged by Mario Montessori (Maria Montessori’s son) with Muriel Dwyer, head of the Montessori Center at Lyndhurst Gardens.

Upon my return in 1966, I started the Operation Brotherhood Montessori preschool at the headquarters of OBI, which had been sending Filipino medical teams to war-torn Vietnam and Laos since 1959. Prodded by parents to continue the Montessori curriculum to the grade school level, I received another Italian scholarship to Bergamo, Italy, so I could take the International Montessori course for ages 7 to 12 years from 1968 to 1969. Meantime, I got acquainted with Mario Montessori with whom I corresponded until his death in 1983.

Introducing the Montessori system via media

Being an alternative system of education, I sought the media to make the public understand the true meaning of the Montessori system. Leading female journalists like Nang Sevilla, Doris Nuyda, Betty Belmonte, and Gelly Mendoza wrote complimentary columns about the “preschoolers who preferred to work on puzzle maps of the world, lay out the Golden Decimal beads, set the table with breakable breakfast plates, and use real electric iron without thought of playing.”

Just before Martial Law was declared, ABS-CBN network president Geny Lopez gave me a thrice-weekly TV slot (1970-1972) to show the Montessori classroom at work. It rated 17th among 400 weekly shows, attracting the A, B, and C of society, for I spoke fluently in both English and Filipino as the host and scriptwriter of “Montessori for Everyone.” This enabled the whole country from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao to discover the “new children,” who loved work and order, and together with them, the “new teacher.”  

Re-acquainting Unesco with Montessori to eradicate poverty 1946-1986

In 1986 to 2010 UNESCO revived its acquaintance with the Montessori system when I became the Philippine representative to UNESCO Paris. Elected to the Executive Board in 1986-87, I demonstrated the Montessori Pagsasarili Preschool exercises with the help of my daughter Sara before UNESCO Director General Amathar M’Bou of Senegal, Africa, and his whole Secretariat. To their surprise and delight the children at the UNESCO Preschool at Rue Miollis readily worked on the Montessori apparata, which they saw for the first time.

During its 40th anniversary celebration, UNESCO posted a huge portrait of Dr. Maria Montessori inside its headquarters. As part of the Italian UNESCO delegation, Dr. Montessori kindled the public’s interest in Early Childhood Education and Adult Literacy, which eventually helped complete the education structure of nations.

When the Executive Board was searching for an adult literacy course to help eradicate poverty in villages, I exhibited the Pagsasarili Mothercraft functional literacy materials for village mothers, to which I added good grooming and hygiene, good housekeeping, and childcare. The program won one of the International Literacy Awards in New Delhi in 1993 within the Decade of Education for All (EFA).

In 1987, I was named by then DECS Secretary Lourdes Quisumbing as one of 9 founding members of the National Council for Coordinating Early Childhood Education for the Philippines (CONCEP). Three national conventions were held to consult parents and educators regarding the baseline regulations of quality preschool. CONCEP also became the advisory body of the DepEd during the administrations of DECS Secretary Sid Carino, Armand Fabella, DepEd Sec. Raul Roco, Jesli Lapus, and Edilberto de Jesus.

Sen. Ed Angara’s edcom promotes the rights of children

In 1990, UNESCO-EFA, the global program for literacy, was declared coinciding with our country ratifying the Convention for the Rights of the Child (CRC). This prompted both Congress and Senate to do a complete survey of the whole educational system in the Philippines. Known as EDCOM, it was led by the late Senator Edgardo Angara, who summarized the study in the book A Nation in Crisis.  Appointed CRC Popularization Chair, I wrote our experiences in holding several inter-sectoral meetings in major Philippine cities with the municipal police, the court, social workers and businessmen. The police directors confided an alarming problem that they were helpless to provide adequate safety to people because they only had half of the required police force.

EDCOM took 5 years to survey the inadequacy of our education, which had not been addressed since we receive our independence from America. Japan even funded the EDCOM Taskforce headed by SEAMEO INNOTECH researcher Dr. Eliseo Barsaga to remedy four observable weaknesses: 40% Grade I dropouts in the middle of the year, irrelevance of the curriculum, the loss of principalship for academic supervision, and the lack of school monitoring and evaluation.

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