Following the 2016 EsF Assembly, the Hyderabad, India,community has been working tirelessly to set up programmes to reach morechildren from low-income backgrounds. An early focus for EsF Hyderabad wasearly childhood care and education in Aanganwadi centers (early years settingsin rural areas) in Andhra Pradesh, India, which lead to the launch of a newinitiative called Community Rooted Education (CoRE). CoRE is an initiativeto bring Montessori education to underserved communities around the world,especially in remote areas, among migratory tribes, to displaced persons andrefugee communities. CoRE is built upon the Montessori triangle: focusingon the child in its local environment, with adult educators who are rooted inthe community and steeped in the local culture trained to use Montessoritechniques and materials to support the child is in its development.
On the basis of a study of Aanganwadi centers and theNational Early Childhood Education Framework, EsF Hyderabad developed a set oflow cost Montessori materials and a training module to introduce the principlesof Montessori practice. The programme, called Community Rooted Education, waspresented at the World Congress in Prague and aroused a lot of interest fromaround the globe. It is a first introduction to Montessori principles with afocus on the preparation of the adult and the environment with the use of thelow-cost materials to aid the work of the child. 55 Aanganwadi teachersin Thullur district have now been trained in EsF Community Rooted Education.They have been introduced to the basic principles of Montessori practice.Classrooms are equipped with key materials focused on activities of dailyliving, sensorial, language and math. The 10-day training is followed bymonthly 2-day workshops for the following 10 months.
Additionally, a Montessori classroom has been set up for thechildren of an orphanage in a rural area, in collaboration with the TelanganaMinorities Residential Educational Institutions Society (TMREIS). TMREISadopted one orphanage in Hyderabad and sought the support of EsF Hyderabad increating a Montessori environment for these children. Helen’s inspiringrecord of this programme can be found below. She continues to work withthe children in the school in Hyderabad and consult with TMREIS as they moveforward. EsF Hyderabad hopes to offer an orientation to Montessoriprinciples to the staff of the Minorities schools in the nearfuture.
An account of the beginning of the work with the TelanganaMinority Residential Institution Society (TMREIS) by Helen Mohan Elias.
When officials from The Telangana Minority ResidentialEducational Institutions Society (TMREIS) met Philip O'Brien and LynneLawrence, Uma Ramani (primary trainer), Helen Mohan Elias and Moiza Rafath(both from the Montessori Training and Research Trust (MTRT)), in August 2016,during the Fifth Educateurs sans Frontières (EsF) Assembly in Hyderabad, theirrequest was to bring high-quality education to the children in their care.Following a number of meetings, TMREIS committed to bringing Montessoriprinciples to all of their residential campuses (204) and to implementMontessori Elementary programmes in a 5 campuses as a beginning pilot.
In August 2017,TMREIS adopted one of the state-runorphanages which had over one hundred children between the age group of 3 to14. Children above 10 years were sent to their residential schools. Childrenbelow 10 years were kept in one of the Hyderabad branches and MTRT was asked toset up a Montessori Environment for the children. We readily agreed to thisheaven-sent opportunity and set up the environment within two days withwhatever material was available across the counter and that we could make. Theenvironment was inaugurated by the President of the TMREIS former PoliceCommissioner, Mr. A K Khan, IPS along with the other officials on 28th August2017.
The children were brought to the Montessori environment aday before the inauguration. They were in a very bad condition. They weremalnourished and unwashed. They had skin lesions. They were unruly. Theywere first given haircuts and bathed and provided with new clothes. On the dayof the inauguration which was the next day, they were given new uniforms andshoes. The children were very excited as they had never worn new clothes orshoes before.
What caught my attention was that amidst all the chaos ofthe inauguration with people from the media and the government officialsexchanging garlands, greeting each other with shawls and flowers and posing forpictures, nothing mattered to the children; they were in their own worldfascinated by the material - the newly set up Montessori material. One part ofme was crying for the way the material was being handled, but fortunately, theother part of me was able to recognize that these children were hungry forwork. They did not mean to damage the material. It was the material that caughttheir attention, the media did not attract them, the important people did notattract them, beautifully painted walls did not attract them. The moment theroom was opened the children pounced on the material as if they were in a lifeor death situation. Some of us, who were Montessori trained, immediatelystarted showing them how to handle the material and how to work with it, onlyto discover that the children were not ready to listen.
Things were not easy as we worked to set up daily routinesand activities. Nobody wanted to work with these children - within one week,two teachers (one Montessori trained and the other a post-graduate) and threehelpers left. The children had no order, no manners, and no discipline.They were not ready to follow instructions. They were very loud, verbally andphysically. Their language and behavior was beyond anybody's control. It wascommon for them to use abusive language and beat each other. One day one boybeat another boy very badly, I took them both aside and said, "I'm so sadthat you hurt him very badly, it must be so painful…" and even before Icould complete what I was saying, the child who received the beating said,"No it is not hurting at all." At that moment, I realized how evenpain is accepted as if it was a normal part of a these children's lives all thetime. They had no feelings for each other's hurt and pain. Beating and beingbeaten up was their lifestyle.
Montessori's first house of children was what glared at me,it was the same situation. Our strength was the outcome of the first Casa deiBambini in San Lorenzo. Work therapy was the only solution. I set to work, tointroduce the materials to the children, to set clear boundaries and hold highexpectations with the help of two teachers (not Montessori trained), who werewilling to work with the children, and two helpers, one each for the girls' andthe boys' dormitories.
Work, work and only work is what the children did, afterthat; more material, more presentations, more visitors, and a balanced diet.The children began to develop a sense of trust and a feeling of security.
Except for a few children, most of them knew numbers and theletters of the alphabet in English. Working with the material was only aconfirmation to them (and to us) that the children already knew the letternames and numbers. The best part was that working with the material was helpingthem calm down, it was helping them shed unwanted movements; handling thematerial with care brought about a sense of care, love and responsibility forthings around them.
These children never had any ground rules or order in theirlives before. In the initial days, they would not listen to any instructionsgiven and end up doing whatever they wanted to do. It looked as if they haddecided not to respect or listen to the teachers. The constant complaint of theteachers was that "they don't listen to us - they behave as if they aredeaf". Now, after two months, the children look much calmer, they are ableto follow instructions and requests, to an extent, and are ready to takepresentations. Initially the urge was to touch the material, manipulate it andplay with it in whatever possible way; but, now, the children seem to haveunderstood that manipulating the material in a particular way shows veryinteresting results. Initially, the urge was only to work but now the urge tolearn is also experienced in most of the children.
On 11th November 2017, TMREIS organized, for the first time,an annual meeting of the 204 minority schools they had established over thelast two years. It was a big event with massive arrangements at the Lal Bahadurstadium in Hyderabad. The older children from grade 5, 6, 7 and 8 showcasedtheir talents in a guard of honor, march past, mass drill and band. Awards weregiven to the children for achievements in various sports events.
The new addition to the TMREIS organization was the orphanswho are now called Montessori children. They were asked to show their work withthe material. We were told that the Chief Minister (CM) of Telangana Sri K.Chandrashekhar Rao wanted to personally interact with the children about theirwork.
The children are only just now beginning to settle and stillwith great difficulty. They are coming to terms with the new orders of theirworld such as sleeping on a cot with mattress, going through a hygienic regimeof brushing their teeth and having bath daily. They are getting 4 meals a daywith balanced diet. Their food consumption is huge, probably because they wereused to getting food once in a while so they eat endlessly. Now slowly,with the guarantee of the next meal, the exuberant eating style and thequantity has come down. Building academic knowledge has not begun as yet and soI was deeply worried that the Chief Minister would not get good feedback fromhis academic questions from the children. What if he came to the conclusionthat Montessori does not work and said so? I was praying that he did not comeand needless to say my prayer was answered. The Chief Minister did not come,because of a sudden change of plans for reasons unknown.
Except for me, the whole congregation was disappointed,including the children. For the children the Chief Minister is akin to God;they think of him more often than they would of anybody else.
We set up a mock environment for the children and I inviteda couple of other Montessori teachers to be on hand to explain the method andprinciples. The programme was graced by the Deputy Chief Minister, HomeMinister, Education Minister and various other officials. The classroom set upfor the Montessori children was viewed with considerable awe. Some of theofficials, principals of schools, teachers, parents and children came to seesomething that looked so different from anything they had previouslyexperienced. The material, the setup and the children attracted a huge crowd.They looked at us all as if we were an exhibit. Children worked with English,Hindi and Urdu movable alphabets. Some worked with geometry solids, pink tower,cylinder blocks, addition strip boards, multiplication and division boards toname a few activities.
To my surprise, people were able to see the change in thechildren. The secretary of TMREIS, Mr. Shafiuallh, said that there was360-degree change in the children. Some people said that they did not look likethe same children that they had seen on the day of the inauguration. They couldnot believe that they were orphans and that they could sit in one place andwork with the material. The children and those of us working with the childrenreceived royal treatment, like celebrities. This gave me assurance that therewas noticeable change in the children.
This is just the beginning…. MTRT has worked to bringElementary trainer Greg McDonald to Hyderabad. TMREIS will be sponsoringseveral teachers to this training. We are also building a short trainingto introduce Montessori principles to other adults. In his workshop conductedby MTRT on the 4th of November 2017, Greg said that just as physical fractureof the bone has to be identified, fixed and allowed to heal, the psychicalfractures and hurt of these children have to be identified and treated andallowed time to heal. With this understanding and the faith in the method wecontinue to work on the healing process.
Additionally, EsF Hyderabad has focused on creating a"School in a Box" with materials for the foundations of literacy andnumeracy. The kit, that costs less than 350 dollars, makes Montessori materialsaccessible to a large majority. The number rods will go to 10, even though itis not shown in the photo.
Also emerging from the EsF Assembly in 2016 was aninvitation to help supplement the training of Aanganwadi workers in Telangana.(Aanganwadi means courtyard and this is education and nutrition for childrenunder the formal school age).
On February 25th EsF Hyderabad offered training for workersfrom 26 Aanganwadis. The training on offer will be for 10 days in two 5 day sessions- the government offers these workers 6 days training per year. The focusis to provide them the basic principles of Montessori practice, introduce theuse of some of the materials created in the format of a 'School in a Box' andprovide the understanding for creating a prepared environment. TheAanganwadi workers will be mentored over the next year through monthly visitsand workshops.
There were over 55 participants - 50+ Aanganwadi teachers;and 5+ supervisors and instructors (who started on the first day as a formalduty, but showed up every day and stayed all day every day!). KalpanaViswas (whose expertise in is in working in the rural areas offering aMontessori education) joined us on Wednesday and stayed for the rest of the sessionassisting with the work.
Alongside the training - each centre will be renovated. Someof the learning is in the form of a song "What is Montessori?".
No Montessori materials were introduced in the first 5 daysof training. The focus was on the preparation of the adult and the environmentby developing Montessori practices before introducing any materials. The threepoints of focus for the next few weeks of practice are Cleanliness, Order andSpoken Language.
A handbook for practice has been created for the teachersand was well received and used for making notes by all. The training so far hasbeen rigorous, compassionate, collaborative, respectful and joyous. Theparticipants were all deeply touched and shared how life changing these dayshave been. The supervisors, project director and local administrators all seemto be invested.