Anganwadis on middle school campuses in Tamil Nadu have begun using a Montessori-based teaching system in LKG and UKG classrooms, but there is a shadow of doubt among experts regarding its efficacy. While they welcome the move, they say that it should be implemented after intensive training. Experts cite the lack of resources in the state to train and establish a system that can be true to the core of the Montessori style of teaching.
The Montessori system, developed by Italian physician, educator and innovator Maria Montessori, is a child-centred approach to education and is over a century old. In an attempt to adopt it in anganwadis, the services of secondary grade teachers who are found to be surplus are being utilised as Montessori-kindergarten teachers. The Montessori classes are being conducted in 2,381 anganwadi centres with 52,933 children, beginning this academic year.
However, experts say that with no recognised training centres for the Montessori educators, the quality and authenticity of the education imparted is doubtful.
Prema Daniel, consultant, with four decades of experience in early childhood education, says that there is a lack of understanding among people regarding the system. She explains, “They think any play-based method is Montessori methodology and that is not true.”
She says that training facilitators (teachers) has to be thorough, which is in not what’s happening now — pushing secondary grade teachers without training to take up a challenging method like Montessori. The State Council for Educational Research and Training (SCERT) is conducting a crash course for these teachers. “There has to be a two-year training that the facilitators undergo and they have to undergo some experience with children,” she adds.
K Shanmugavelayutham, convenor, TN-FORCES (Tamil Nadu- Forum for Creche and Childcare Services), says that there is a hint of Montessori features in the draft of National Education Policy, where it focuses on pre-school education in all schools and kids between the ages of 3-8 years as a pre-school group like in Europe. “The Montessori system is just a methodology and it is not recognised by the National Council for Teacher Education. Montessori, therefore, seems to have been introduced only for the sake of adding glamour to education system,” he adds.
Needs expensive infrastructure, little benefit later
Experts say that the setting up of a thorough Montessori environment involves a lot of money and that the materials are not easily available. Daniel says, “The peg-like structures to lift out things will help them (kids) hold the pencil. Even language is taught phonetically and the numbers are approached scientifically. Are we going to have all these in place?”
Having said that, the experts believe that Montessori can be integrated in the existing system to benefit the masses rather than pursue it in isolation.
Sangeetha Muthsenthil, who runs Kids Gurukulam, an early childhood education centre, says, “We have seen that Montessori system has very little support here as there are not many schools who continue it beyond six years. In that case, exposing them to a system that is not followed beyond that hampers their chances of integration.”