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July 29, 2012

Bringing Montessori to Africa

Nursery school teachers and principals talk and catch up on work during a day of their weeklong Montessori training. The week was part of a three year certification in the teaching method led by Sister Barbara Jean Ciszek, principal of the Archdiocese of Chicago's Cardinal Bernardin Early Childhood Center. Joyce Duriga / Catholic New World

Nursery school teachers and principals talk and catch up on work during a day of their weeklong Montessori training. The week was part of a three year certification in the teaching method led by Sister Barbara Jean Ciszek, principal of the Archdiocese of Chicago's Cardinal Bernardin Early Childhood Center.Joyce Duriga / Catholic New World

By Joyce Duriga

EDITOR

During this recent trip to Nsukka, Sister of St. Joseph Barbara Jean Ciszek led the first of three trainings in Montessori teaching methods for a group of 50 nursery school teachers and principals.

This was Sister Barbara Jean’s, or Sister Bee Jay’s, third trip to Nsukka. She became involved in the partnership early on. During her first trip she travelled with a group of principals from the archdiocese with the purpose of visiting many schools in the Diocese in Nsukka.

Her impression of what she saw? There was going to be “a lot of work to do.”

“We basically saw children crowded into classrooms with no light, no windows, and no teacher materials to teach with,” said the principal of the Cardinal Bernardin Early Childhood Center, 1651 W. Diversey Parkway.

Rote learning — where a teacher says something and the children repeat it and back — was the primary method of teaching. This way of teaching led Sister Bee Jay to suggest training the nursery teachers in Montessori.

“We figured it would be a way in which to move teachers from the rote learning to the way children learn using hands on manipulatives,” said Sister Bee Jay, who is a certified instructor with the Seton Montessori Institute and whose early childhood center uses the method.

She’s trained teachers in Montessori in several different countries such as Brazil and Mexico.

“The way I have seen Montessori work in developing countries is that it really helps teach the young children a way in which they will be successful lifelong learners,” she said.

Montessori is a hands-on method of learning and doesn’t use books. It’s most often used with children aged 3 to 6. Materials are arranged from the easiest to the difficult and teachers work with children one on one or in small or large groups.

The partnership started its training on the nursery level with the model school in mind.

“It’s often a good idea if you are beginning a school to begin with the youngest children and develop it up through the ages. Several of our schools in the archdiocese that have begun have done the same thing,” she said.

Sister Bee Jay brought several suitcases worth of materials for the teachers to get them started. She even used her birthday money from friends and family to give each participant $20 to spend at the market purchasing materials for their classrooms. They brought the materials in and demonstrated how they would use them in the classroom. It was an effort to show the teachers that materials can be found in everyday items or made easily.

There is also a religious education component to Montessori. Maria Montessori, the founder of the method, included spiritual development in her writings.

This component will help the nursery school teachers because they have no religious formation. What they have they receive from the Sunday sermons.

Sister Bee Jay becomes emotional when she talks about how, before she died, Maria Montessori dreamed of bringing her method to Africa. Sister Bee Jay and her colleagues are making that dream a reality in Nsukka.