Mainstream Indian state schools tend to follow a path of “rote, pay attention, cane and blind pursuit of high exam marks” which leads not only to rampant cheating, and at one end of the spectrum to smiles but at the other end suicides by youngsters who dare not face their parents.
To break away from that, in a systemic manner, robust enough to withstand parental pressure, we have the nursery element (3s, 4s and 5s) under the Montessori system. This system is taking off manfully in India, and we are fortunate in having MMI (Modern Montessori International) on our doorstep. This is a London, Singapore and Gurgaon based organisation with good credentials. They train our teachers.
We are an English medium school - all teaching is done in English, because mastery of this will, when the time comes, get them a better job. And starting at age three, gives it to them as their (rather than an invasive foreign) language.
Nisha Yadav completed that training and launched Montessori in April 09. For those not in the know, Montessori’s byword is “Learning is Fun”. Also its focus is on activity, by which one learns and understands, rather than struggling to remember. Lajwanti did her her Montessori training, starting April 2010 and was followed by Tara in October 2010. A further teacher will do hers in October 2011 to complete our team.
There will eventually be four specialist teachers in the Montessori section who will each be nominally in charge of a class, and they will take that class into grade 1 CBSE of primary school, so as to lessen the effect of the step change of learning system; and the next year they will pick up the three year olds, and start the way up again. The purpose of this is to avoid disruptive annual teacher changes and to get the children into thinking of their teacher as Mum, so as to have natural control and discipline.
It is our perception that our most important core teachers need to be Maths, English, Music, Art and Sport - this enables us to focus on building character and self-esteem. This should find a resonant response from the vast majority of children, leading to balanced and confident youngsters. And if we give them all as much literacy and numeracy as they can absorb, no subject will be closed to them when they decide to pursue it.
This applies particularly to computery, where if it is introduced before the literacy level permits understanding, it risks becoming nothing more than a games centre.
As at January 2011 we now have three specialist teachers; in Music Mukesh, a dwarf and very popular, in PE/sport we have Chandan, and in Art, Lajwanti who now mixes Montessori and Art
On the advice of the MMI director, the three Montessori classrooms have been interconnected, permitting easy interaction, in the belief that youngsters learn as much from each other as they do from the teachers. Free movement is encouraged
In later years, we shall probably opt to register on the CBSE curriculum; this will permit recognized qualifications to be given; though our focus will be on character and personality rather than on high marks, in the belief that this will get them better jobs. A steady eye and a smile and good body language are more likely to get a job than a certificate with high marks which involved cheating.
In the Primary school we have adopted a system called iDiscoveri, which is nationally is gaining rapidly in following. It defines the curriculum by having an interesting range of day work books, and covers a wide range of scholastic spectrum. It also gives on-site leadership to teachers on how to present each topic. Early thoughts are that it is going well, but needs some tuning to make it village-centric. They concur, and are pondering how to do this.
We have been conscious for some time that in our lead classes there is a great disparity of ability and the brighter boys and girls are being held back by the slower ones, so in April 2011 we shall start an A-stream system where the five or so in tens and nines join up for accelerated maths and English and so also with the 8s and 7s - creating two accelerated classes. Our top teacher, Sunita, will take these students - giving her four classes per day of this type.
We shall watch this closely to see if the numbers in the class are right. It’s purpose is to ensure that those few who seem to deserve a shot at university get the opportunity.
The teachers are very much aware that they are to be intellectual, moral and social role models to the village; and accordingly their accommodation has been built to a spacious standard to give them visible standing. We have plans in hand to improve their command of the English language.