By Fatima Sheikh |16 May 2018
KARACHI: The occasion was the golden jubilee of the Montessori Teachers Training Diploma course in Pakistan. Sixty excited and smiling fresh graduates stepped on the stage to place tapers in a neat row, as a female voice introduced them as “the bearers of the flame of education” that have guided children through the ages.
This course is conducted in Pakistan by the Montessori Teachers’ Training Centre (MTTC), Karachi, The MTTC trains teachers to work with children aged between two-and-a-half to six years. It is the only training centre in Pakistan recognized by and affiliated with AMI, Amsterdam. The MTTC was established in 1999 and is governed by a Board of Governors. It is registered with the Government of Sindh under Section 42 of the Companies Ordinance.
Salma Imtiaz, Co-director of Training and a member of the Board of Governors of MTTC, formally inaugurated the programme which focused on how education changes lives.
Those who were awarded Diplomas were the central figures on this occasion. But the silent hero was Mrs. Farida Akbar, who was honoured for her contribution as the Director of Training at the MTTC since its inception in 1999. She was also associated with the training programme of the Pakistan Montessori Association under its founder Mrs Gool Minwalla since 1964.
In a video message, Lynne Lawrence, Executive Director of AMI, congratulated MTTC, Pakistan on the completion of the fiftieth course.
As could have been expected, all speakers reminded the audience of the importance of education in people’s lives. Professor Dr. Atta ur Rahman, the chairman of the Board of Governors of MTTC and a former Chairman, Higher Education Commission, was the opening speaker. He spoke about the importance of knowledge and how technology was facilitating its acquisition. This was changing people’s lives. Dwelling on the discoveries in the fields of Medicine, Bio-technology, Engineering, Agriculture and Space Science, he said, “These developments are ushering in the fourth industrial revolution.”
Sadiqa Salahuddin, Founder and Executive Director of the Indus Resource Centre (IRC), spoke about the role of education in changing the lives of rural people. Her talk was relevant to the occasion that was to acknowledge the graduating Montessori teachers.
“It is the teachers’ responsibility to reveal the hidden qualities of children and provide them the environment in which they can excel,” Salahuddin pointed out.
She gave examples of how ten girls who had been tending cattle before they joined the IRC schools are now studying in Engineering Universities.
She also spoke of Ghulam Sughra Solangi who was being trained on her leadership qualities by IRC. She was the recipient of the International Women of Courage Award 2011.
Very appropriately, Salahuddin ended her speech with Sheikh Saadi’s verse that empahasises the importance of early childhood education: “If a mason puts the first brick incorrectly, the whole building will be wrongly constructed.”
Cheryl Ferreira, the External Examiner of MTTC and an AMI Trainer who had specially travelled from London to help with the assessment of the students, spoke about the transformation which comes from inside an individual — the basis of Dr. Maria Montessori’s philosophy.
“The body of a child self-constructs but education helps in creating her mind and bringing out her hidden potential,” Ferreira said.
Ferreira warned against the negative consequences of disturbing the natural development of the child. “Education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the child and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiencing the environment oneself,” she quoted Maria Montessori from her book Education for a New World.
Addressing the fresh graduates, Ferreira said, “You can create the best environment for children in early years in which their personality traits develop.” She pointed out that communication is one of the skills which a child learns in her early years to express her views and emotions through words. The use of her hands is another that shows in the act of writing. And who knows where this will take a child,” she said.
Talking to me after the ceremony, Ferreira said, “A teacher should understand the importance of understanding a child. A child has powers inside her to self-construct. She has to respect those powers as she is the provider of the means, the environment and the activities.”
Farida Akbar, Director of Training and Chief Executive of Board of Governors of MTTC, talked about the character building of children at an early age along with the purpose of education.
“In the subcontinent, a teacher traditionally educated children and simultaneously provided them tarbeeat (grooming),” said Akbar.
“Today the purpose of education is just to get a job and earn money,” said Akbar. This was also being done by rote learning which she termed as a “major flaw” in Pakistan’s education system.
“The real purpose of education should be to nurture a person’s character and personality to enable him to fully adjust to his environment and help him find solutions to his problems. Our education system lacks this capacity,” she observed.
Research proved that children never forget whatever they learn in their early years. What they learn becomes a habit for them. Hence the importance of nourishing the mind, Akbar observed.
“In their early age children want to explore their environment. They want to experiment. If they are barred from it, they become mentally starved and express their frustration by adopting extreme behaviour and the child is considered to be ill-mannered,” she said.
While talking to me, Akbar said, “The teacher’s character is of prime importance for a child. A child focuses less on what is said and more on what teachers do. A teacher should not be arrogant and short tempered which can be her major sins. By being humble and patient she can also learn from children.”
“I learnt about child psychology and time management effectively through the course,” said a fresh graduate of MTTC.
Sharing her experience of the course, another fresh graduate, said, “MTTC trained us in developing patience and modesty.”