Reflections on a Tour of Montessori Elementary Schools in London
The Montessori elementary programs we visited in London were comprised of two locations in the city and two outside. The four elementary classrooms share the following characteristics:
Every elementary program is next to a Montessori Children’s House. Three are located on separate floors in a single-family villa and one is next to the Children’s House. The teachers at the same school can see both stages of a child’s development, from childhood to adolescence. It is a dream for many Montessori teachers.
The children are diverse. There are all kinds of people, from different continents, and there’s a great deal of cultural diversity. London is an international metropolis with a long history. The population learned early on to get along with people of all different cultures.
There are not many children in every Montessori elementary program. Each class has between 30 and 20 children. Because of the diversity of the culture, there are also diverse methods of education naturally coexisting. For example, there is a traditional school just next to one of the Montessori elementary schools.
In addition, there is also a Montessori junior high school, or middle school, with about 20 children. They stay in school four days a week, and the teachers and students also work together to manage the school’s farms where they grow vegetables and keep bees. When we visited, they made us lunch with their own food.
After visiting Montessori elementary programs in Taiwan, Japan and the U.K., I found that the education system in these three regions has its own characteristics as well as a common denominator:
1 Taiwan’s national culture of education is very methodical and focuses on feelings.
For example, on a visit to the class, the Chinese language teacher asked the students to draw out what they felt after reading an article about autumn. The second-grade children, with different upbringing, must have had different feelings about the same article, just as a thousand people have a thousand different interpretations of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in their hearts. Later, the children did some painting in different styles, and the details of their expressions were also different. They have a very personal way of encouraging creativity. They can only have their own thoughts when they have recognized their own feelings. The more experiences they accumulate, the more they can reflect, which leads to greater expression.
2 Montessori in Japan goes hand in hand with the culture of testing.
The Montessori elementary school I visited in Japan is not as old as the one in Taiwan, it has been established for about 10 years now. It started with five children, two of whom were employees’ children. There are now about 60 students. The morning is comprised of a full three-and-a-half hours of the Montessori work cycle, and during the afternoon they have special tutors. Senior students also continue their tutoring after school. Because the tutors are very professional, and their lectures are lively and easy to understand, the learning pressure has been reduced, but the children still seem quite tired in our eyes. However, they were full of energy the next day when we saw them.
3 There’s a lot of interesting cultural diversity in England.
There are numerous languages spoken in London, and many expressions of religious life are evident. We could find influences from almost every part of the world in London. In such a rich cultural environment, the teaching materials, especially in the cultural category, are particularly rich. We thought that since London has a long history we may see a lot of things in the typical British style, but we slowly discovered that influences from the Americas, Africa, and Asia had been incorporated into British culture.
Common Ground: Taiwan, Japan, and the United Kingdom have a long history of rich teaching tools and national characteristics.
In addition to the introduction of the history of the world, they’ve created a large number of teaching materials to depict their unique national history. History is a part of culture. To know our history is to know our own past and origin, and we use our understanding to create our identity. Self-identity is the source of cultural self-confidence. You need to be confident in your culture and history.
At the same time, each has its own characteristics: Taiwan has a long history. The Japanese focus on the details of the introduction of history. The U.K. has a wide span of countries bound with its history. Taiwan’s history is connected to Chinese history, which is long and full of interesting characters. Chinese history and philosophy have always been inseparable, but the teaching materials are not meant to impart any values. Japan is a small country with a relatively short history compared to China, but the preservation of the cultural relics is good, the data is much more detailed, and the teachers can precisely prepare the data. After the British industrial revolution, there was a huge increase in national power, more overseas territories appeared, and now there are 53 members of the Commonwealth. The large span of territory also reflects the diversity of cultures.
Cultures vary from country to country, and the teaching materials are different, but all children look the same when they are focused!