CAMT Conference: The Montessori Outreach Project

On Friday, November 5th, Nadia went to the Canadian Association of Montessori Teachers’ Annual Conference. Below is a summary of a workshop she attended.

We read about the universality of Montessori education through Maria’s teachings, and her many years working around the world, but there is something truly amazing about witnessing it in action. This is what Jamie Rossiter and Pam Leudke had the opportunity to do, through their work in the rural region of Mbeya Tanzania.

Jamie and Pam had the chance to go to Africa and share their years of Montessori teaching experience with the local people, through the Canadian based charity “The Olive Branch for Children” run by Deborah McCracken, a Montessori graduate herself.

The goal for successful community development projects, anywhere around the world, is of course sustainability, and this fits so in line with Montessori’s philosophy “Help me to help myself”. This is what The Olive Branch for Children is striving for with their Montessori outreach project.

The first step is educating teachers, and there is a growing demand for this training. The attendees are villagers/teachers who are chosen and supported with a stipend, by their communities, in order to study. Until recently villagers might have had to walk long distances every day, in order to attend the training. This goes to show the commitment and the enthusiasm of the Mbeya area people to learn about Montessori philosophy and methodology.

The project has grown now and this year there was a facility to house and feed the trainees during their 10-day workshop, so that their focus could be on learning. How do you cram Montessori philosophy and methodology into 10 days? It is impossible of course, but they have to start somewhere, and so they focus on the cornerstones of Montessori, such as; learning by doing, multi-age classes, positive classroom management, peace in education, care for the environment, and so on, while also keeping in mind the circumstances of the villages, and being aware and considerate of the local culture.

The fact that there is very little in the way of resources/materials, means that part of the training includes extensive workshops in material making. This task is made even harder by the fact that some of the Tanzanian trainees may not have worked with certain tools before, like scissors or rulers, and these require some practice. They also have to adapt many of the materials and find creative solutions. For instance they may have to make their own moveable alphabet by using a donated set as a template. They make trips to the local market to see what is readily available and will suit their purposes, like sheets of vinyl to make mats, since they are durable, washable, and still roll up.

Finding local materials at the market does not only eliminate the issue of costly shipping from across the world and the hassle of getting it out to the rural areas, but it feeds the local economy and avoids creating a dependency.

As well as resources the environmental conditions are taken into account when making materials. We don’t have to worry here about the elements, as our schools are housed in buildings complete with doors and windows. This is not always the case in rural Tanzania. From partially built structures to makeshift shelters, to the shade of a big tree, classes are carried out wherever they are given space.

One can’t help but admire the work that is going on here, both the Montessori trainers, like Jamie and Pam, and the many Tanzanian trainees, who are taking on each challenge as a learning opportunity.

The program continues to evolve through reflecting on its successes and where it has fallen short. For example, one major issue that became apparent, was the disconnect from what was learned in the training workshops to how it is applied in the classroom. Without actual observations or practice teaching it is difficult to know where to start and to recognize if it is being implemented correctly.

Thankfully this will no longer be the case, as there is a school up and running where the training centre is located, and this year’s trainees spent their mornings observing, practice teaching and reflecting. There was also emphasis on group problem solving, so they can learn to manage their own issues. This is important especially because ultimately these teachers and their communities are responsible for their schools and will be held accountable.

The financial support from the charity will only continue until 2012, and then it is expected that these new schools will run themselves, and be able to pay their teachers. The schools, which can achieve this independence, will succeed and carry on. The hope is that all the schools reach this point. The goal for “The Olive Branch for Children” is to primarily focus on continuing to educate the teachers.

The Montessori Outreach Program is a wonderful example of the “sowing” Maria Montessori spoke of, “To sow everywhere without ceasing to harvest”. It is not only an inspiration but a reminder that Montessori is much more than a classroom filled with materials, it a vision for a better future, whether it be for our local community or the global community, it is a vision of peace and education.

If you are interested in finding out more, getting involved, or supporting The Olive Branch for Children Montessori Outreach Program, by donating or volunteering, go to: http://www.theolivebranchforchildren.org/

November 24, 2010. Professional Development. No Comments.