India is witnessing a steady rise in elementary and adolescent Montessori education. The system allows students to find their own space
Preeti Jain’s daughter studies in a Montessori in Bengaluru. When she turned six, Preeti decided to continue her education in the same montessori instead of choosing a mainstream school. “My daughter’s Montessori has an elementary section too,” she says. “I saw how different she was from other children her age, in terms of her social interactions and her independence as a learner. This helped me make my choice.”
Montessori preschools are hugely popular in India but surprisingly, many parents do not know that the Montessori pedagogy and practice extend beyond the preschool years and move to the higher grades too. Montessori education is designed for elementary students in the 6 to 12 age group and for adolescents in the 12 to 18 age group.
India has seen many new elementary Montessoris come up in the last few years. There are currently more than 20 in Bengaluru alone, and this number keeps increasing every year. Chennai has more than three elementary Montessoris, Hyderabad has around 15 and there are new elementary Montessoris coming up in Mumbai, Coimbatore, Erode and Salem. These Montessoris are among the most popular schools in their respective cities.
The adolescent Montessori community is fairly new but is gaining popularity. The country’s first adolescent Montessori community began at Pragnya Montessori in Hyderabad, in 2017. A second adolescent community came up at Medha Montessori in Hyderabad in 2019. These are the first two Montessori adolescent communities in India with teachers or adults trained by the Association Montessori Internationale, a training body that Maria Montessori founded in 1950.
Chaithanya Yalamanchili, Programme Director, Erdkinder, at the Pragnya Montessori School, marvels at the adolescent Montessori or the Erdkinder because it truly unlocks the adolescent’s potential. “They can run an all-economic system completely on their own,” he says. “In our community, they work on entrepreneurial projects, raise funds, make money and reinvest in future projects. They grow vegetables, explore rainwater harvesting and even build boats. They maintain the whole adolescent programme on their own.”
Kavya Chandrasekar, the Executive Director of the Montessori Institute of Bangalore (MIB) and Founder of The Montessori School in Bengaluru, says that the elementary Montessori is built on the idea of cosmic education. “We give children tools to be better observers of nature,” she says. “They delve into cause and effect, and investigate their own moral values and beliefs. They work predominantly in groups, but may choose to work independently too.”
This system constantly encourages its students to find their place in the world. They are not confined to subjects. They regularly conference with their guides, document their learning journeys and steer their own course. The Montessori material gives them impressions of real-life scenarios and hands-on practice. In the higher grades, the students in a Montessori move into more abstract work. They work in an interdisciplinary manner and there is a lot of peer-based work.
As every student knows, all roads lead to high school exams and all Montessoris that progress into the higher grades inevitably help the students to write these exams. Chandrasekar, for instance, insists that accountability to the national curriculum is emphasised continuously. “Our children understand that they are working with the national curriculum,” she says. “We have a curriculum list that tells them what ground they need to cover by a certain age. Once the children enter elementary Montessori, they meet their teachers or guides once a week or fortnight and discuss their progress. They maintain a journal and talk about how much math, physics or language work that they have done that week. So with freedom, students are also made accountable for the work they need to do.”
Says Yalamanchili, “Montessori students do write board exams. At Pragnya, we work with the Cambridge curriculum. Some montessoris work with the NCERT curriculum. Students don’t find it hard to adapt to that system at all. In fact, we sometimes have students who leave us in the elementary and primary grades to go to mainstream schools and they adapt fairly quickly. When Montessori students leave the school, they are keenly aware of the opportunities and possibilities that exist in the world. For example, my student wants to pursue a career in economics, but also wants to opt for physics.”
As the students approach class VIII and IX, many Montessoris streamline their work to prepare students to meet these challenges. They start using prescribed textbooks and study material. Their concepts are in place and they are able to apply them beautifully. Good elementary and adolescent programmes do prepare children to write exams fearlessly but the difference is in how they do it.
The Montessori method of education was developed in 1897 as a multidimensional learning experience. A Montessori is a mixed-age environment and this encourages a high level of collaboration. In fact, India has a longstanding connection with adolescent Montessori education. When Maria Montessori visited India, she interacted with older children in the country and it greatly influenced her method. The idea of the adolescent community is not at all unusual to India, as seen with Shantiniketan or Gandhiji’s Tolstoy farm