Celebrate Maria’s 150th Birthday
As a 13 year old student, she was confident and ambitious. Limited schooling options were offered to woman in those days. She defied the standard expectations of parents, men and possibly many other women and walked her own path. A beacon to all woman then, who continues to be a beacon now. Classified as a Woman of our Time, a Woman of the Century and a person I most admire. She is Maria Montessori.
Born in a small village, Chiaravalle in Italy, on 31st August 1870. Maria had a strong mother who was prepared to defy the dictates of her conservative husband. She supported her daughter’s quest to join a technical school at the age of 13. Thus, began Maria’s engineering studies with math as a major subject. Men did not appreciate her presence in school. As a young, assiduous student who focused on her intellectual interests she ignored them and then moved her focus to medicine and to become the 1st Italian woman to receive a doctorate.
After receiving her doctorate, Maria Montessori continued working and studied a broad range of disciplines such as anthropology, psychology and philosophy. These varied experiences formed the foundation of the Montessori philosophy of education. She wanted to ensure that the children would indirectly benefit from her mastery of these skills, by embedding the principles of these disciplines in the Montessori materials and activities she developed. When studying the works of Itard and Sequin, who researched how people learn, Maria realized the importance of their findings. Basing her own observations on children, she developed her theory of how children learn.
How did Maria implement her research?
This is a woman, not satisfied to complete the research, produce a paper and leave the matter there. Maria Montessori had studied underprivileged children for her research. These underprivileged children lived in a community that considered them “wild and unruly”. She turned them into independent, educated, eager to learn, children. Children who took responsibility for their own actions and lives. This result was achieved through her observation of what children needed. A prepared environment supported the child’s need to learn. Presented with the opportunity to work with age-related materials, they absorbed knowledge like sponges. Noting how quickly the children learnt, continuously manipulating materials, improving their skills, seemingly tirelessly, without requesting help from anyone prompted her to open the first Casa dei Bambini in 1906. The Montessori Method of educating children was developed. A revolutionary journey that continues today.
How can Maria’s Methods help us today?
Reviewing our world in 2020, it is obvious that the World must re-think traditional education. The World Economic Forum COVID Action Program recently asked participants 2 questions:
1) how many participants feel confident enough about their current skills, to take them through to the end of their careers? – only 1 in 5 respondents felt confident that they had sufficient abilities to last until retirement.
2) do they feel confident enough to advise their children on their education to prepare for their own future? – zero people raised their hands.
These responses came from some of the most knowledgeable, leading figures in the world and yet they, like many of us, are uncertain about what the future of labour markets look like. This is not surprising. Globalization and technology are accelerating both job creation and destruction at an astronomical rate. Some estimates have put the risk of automation as high as ½ of current jobs, others feel it is even higher and estimate that only 9% of existing jobs will remain in the next 5 years. It was found that on average, 1/3 of the skill sets required to perform today’s jobs will no longer be necessary in 5 years or less, due to automation.
What is required, are the so-called “soft skills” that AI will not be able to replicate. These skills require strong human character traits. Workers will need:
- Teamwork – the ability to persuade and work well with others
- Independent and confident – willing to work and get the job done without being told to do it.
- Ability to recognize the need to re-learn new and old skills
- Resilience to be able to adapt to new situations as old skills become obsolete.
These skills are difficult to teach. The teacher / care giver prepares the environment to offer age-appropriate activities. They are there to guide the process. The prepared environment is based on self-directed activities with hands-on learning and collaborative play. Children make creative choices in their play. They develop these soft skills as they work and manipulate the tools in their environment, collaborating with their peers, guided by the parents and teachers.
Happy Birthday Maria Montessori. Thank you for the observations, teachings and valuable information you have left for us.