Height of Teaching

Height of Teaching

Madame Montessori, whose name is synonymous with child education, was a tall woman. No, I am not referring to her height, but her social stature. Born on August 31, 1870, Montessori became Italy’s first woman doctor. Initially, she took care of children’s physical ailments and diseases. Eventually, her curiosity led her to explore the minds of children and how they learn. By the early twentieth century, Dr Maria Montessori’s mission was to propagate radically different methods of teaching young children. “Help me do it myself” was her idea of teaching. In other words, she encouraged experiential learning – where children learn by observing, interacting, and experiencing, instead of relying on memory.

She went on to write several books on the subject and set up many institutes based on her philosophy, which was catching on throughout the world, including India. Today, a hundred years later, her teaching philosophy is as relevant as it was in her times.

A lady named Tarabai Modak, a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, who started a Balwadi in the Sabarmati Ashram based on Montessori’s teaching philosophy, was also a pioneer of sorts in the area of child education. On, 31 August 2005, the 135th birth anniversary of Dr Maria Montessori, city-based Saraswati Vidya Mandir Trust’s Pre-primary section celebrated a Memorial Day in honour of the two great women. The school invited parents/grandparents of their Kindergarten students to participate in a two-day programme. About 400 adults learnt about the Montessori Method of teaching. Whether it was Maths, Science, Arts, or Music, the young children learn not in classroom or from books, but by experiencing and experimenting hands on. Parents discovered how their children understood the five senses (biology), shapes of toys and objects (geometry), reflection from mirrors (physics), and many other phenomena by being involved in them rather than grasping them conceptually. Such learning is not only more fun but is also more enduring than the bookish variety. Wonder why only children are taught this way, because such a wonderful method of teaching ought to be introduced even at senior levels of education.

When Montessori met Mahatma
Montessori met Mahatma Gandhi in the beginning of October, 1931 in London. And on October 28, 1931 Gandhiji spoke at the Montessori Training College, London where Montessori was also in attendance. His speech, published in Young India dated 19 November 1931, concluded thus: “You have very truly remarked that if we are to reach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children and if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won’t have the struggle, we won’t have to pass fruitless idle resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which, consciously or unconsciously, the whole world is hungering.”

Moving towards God

Since 1998, city-based NGO Jidnyasa has been campaigning for eco-friendly Ganpati celebrations. Last year, even the Thane Municipal Corporation joined in by initiating moves to protect the city’s lakes. But Jidnyasa’s Youth Group is not resting. Their mission is to minimise public immersions of idols as they cause pollution. Surendra Dighe, Managing Trustee of Jidnyasa, says, “There is scientific evidence that Ganpati idols, unless made of clay, are non-biodegradable. We, who are aware of the dangers of this trend, must spread the awareness before it’s too late. I think this is the proper use of science – out there in the social context and not inside laboratories.”

Moving closer to Lord Ganesha

Jidnyasa’s primary target is students, who not only influence their parents today, but are also decision-makers of tomorrow. On Sunday, about 300 students formed a human chain around the Masunda Lake with the objective of spreading the good word. And their campaign seems to be having a positive effect – already close to 1000 families from Thane have promised not to immerse idols. To encourage use of clay idols, Jidnyasa organises an annual competition for the “Most Eco-Friendly Decoration in Thane”.

It is said that Cleanliness is next to Godliness. If more and more residents vow to embrace the eco-friendly way, then Thane city is set to move several steps closer to Lord Ganesha. Because, there is no better way to please Him than to keep His creation, His environment free from toxic waste.

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