A Montessori Moment in Egypt’s History

 By Inas Hassan

The day after the announcement that Mubarak was no longer President of Egypt, there was an unprecedented sense of freedom among a large number of Egypt’s citizens. People felt that an oppressive load was lifted from their collective shoulders and were now free to take action. What sort of action were they to take in this newfound freedom? Forming militant groups to revenge against the old order? Forming political groups to assert their rights? Slandering the old regime? Pillaging and creating havoc?

No; none of the above. What most regular Egyptians did on the 12 of February; young and old, men and women, mothers and children; was to go down and clean the streets. That’s right picking up rubbish, sweeping the streets, painting the edges of the side walks, fences and light poles and planting trees.

Although school was delayed for a few weeks I was actually delighted with the learning opportunities offered my children through the street cleaning campaigns. You may think I’m crazy, preferring that my children sweep the streets than go to school! Well YES, it’s true. It is because I realised that what they were taking part in was:

A true Montessori moment.

Maria Montessori found that, contrary to popular belief, when children are given true freedom of action their natural inclination is to act responsibly. The Egyptian revolution showed us that the perceived freedom Egyptians felt led them to a deeper relationship with their environment and a feeling of responsibility for it. Montessori is all about education through interaction with the environment and what better education is there that instils young Egyptians with the sense that “YES, WE CAN DO IT”.  They learned that together: we can clean the streets, we can eliminate corruption, and we can build a better and brighter future for Egypt.

That is the beauty of both this revolution and the Montessori Method of education. For both did not create something new but rather provided the atmosphere for the growth of natural inborn tendencies within each human being to want to contribute in a positive way to society.

The children in Montessori’s schools proved that their real need is to be absorbed in work and have freedom to choose their occupation. What was amazing was that ‘discipline’ spontaneously appeared as a result of this freedom.  This was evident in her experience with students in her school over 40 years and in widely varying parts of the world.

Montessori developed her method by observing the young children in her preschools. She found that they were not as much interested in playing with traditional toys as they were in trying to use real utensils and equipment used by adults. She observed that children from lower socio economic backgrounds have a developmental advantage over their richer peers in that they naturally and actively take part in real life with their parents rather than being relegated to another room to play with artificial toys. So you could imagine the joy of my three year old Mostafa when we told him he was going to clean the streets with us. He took to the task seriously and enthusiastically on a number of occasions, as you can see by this photo.

Such freedom to become absorbed in meaningful work creates a state of satisfaction seldom seen at school. I was so happy when my fifteen year old Amira came home from a day of street sweeping and traffic island painting and told me she just had one of the best days of her life. Also, it was priceless to see the look of pride at a job well done when my nephew Yasser had just finished meticulously painting parking spaces and no standing traffic indicators on the street in front of our building.

Although Montessori found that children in her schools were happy, this was not the whole aim of education but rather for the child to develop himself into the man he is to be, to be “independent in his powers and character, able to work and assert his mastery over all that depends on him” (The Absorbent Mind, p.170). I believe this is the kind of education which was taking place on the streets of Egypt.

Now that the children are back at school with their day broken up into arbitrary periods with ‘lessons’ keeping them occupied and exams to study for, this spontaneous interaction with the environment has abated.  What Montessori observed 100 years ago still applies today: “the schools we have today cannot help the creative instincts of the children who feel in themselves a true delight in activity, a real joy in hard work, in finding the beauty of work, in comforting the unhappy and helping the weak.” (p.241)

I can’t wait til the holidays when I hope our children will have the time and motivation to resume cleaning and rebuilding our country.

Inas Hassan

Related:   http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/13/big-society-egyptian-cairo


Montessorilly Yours : )


 My name is Marie Therese , 11 years ago I decided to understand more about children, after I had my two boys.

  I’m grateful to my Mom and to Marguerite who is my master, my sister, my mother and my friend… Marguerite, who helped me see the child with my Heart, my Mind and my Eyes.

  Being among children provides me with positive energy, that they will soon want back.
  Learning abut the powers of children, made me understand more out the powers of God.

 Montessorilly Yours 🙂
 Marie Therese Bishay.

The Child’s Method

By Amira Nagati

   I dropped out of University in the graduation year. 

   I have to say that my auditory processing is the worst of all, I am mainly and dominantly a visual/kinesthetic person. More to say? For 14 years I succumbed to the national system of education, worrying every year that I wouldn’t be able to go on, having the picture of the years to come in the same ditch (years are actually made out of hours and moments, so “it’s only 3 years to go” doesn’t really work). Every rationalizing didn’t work. I started personal projects, researched, convinced myself that I was after knowledge, but eventually, it was all labelled “extra-curricular activities”. To me, this is as vulgar as a swear word, something like “extra-marital affairs”, in the end it is all about something that is “out” and secondary, and something that is “in” and primary, and they should never link, the secondary should never affect the primary, the secondary is non-committing, the primary is non-debatable… Such a schizophrenic way to be!

   I tried to rebel many times, one time in elementary school I lead a strike and we demanded changes that would respect our needs and interests, and to be treated humanly and not like a herd.  A few things changed to the better, but of course, what can a school do when there is a ministry and a curriculum to catch up with?  Teachers kept reproaching me stealthily, they said they were surprised, I was an A+ student, why would I need to complain? I was always being told that “you can do all you want and still give the society what it wants, we all have to pay to live the way we want. See? Studying doesn’t even take much of your time!” Guess what, it does… Isn’t it a shame? That education is such a bitter thing for people that they try to sugar-coat it? The dilemma that I must do something in a way that doesn’t fit how I function, and I would have to do it imperfectly and absently just for the sake of… of… of what? Oh. Other people. That, was such a pain to me that it was a rock blocking the flow of my life. I can safely say that I have a real phobia. It really does paralyse me. Me, who loves to learn and can only think of her life as a continuous line of learning experiences. No, I don’t want to graduate.. ever… I will always be the child with eyes wide with awe and curiosity to know all about this Universe.

Too much about me already, what about Montessori?

   Montessori scares people because of the subjectivity of the name, but Maria Montessori only said “Follow the Child.” The Montessori method is the child. We are the child’s followers, not the followers of Maria Montessori. She taught us many thing about the child, and her scientific approach and long years of research and experimenting to produce this method was laboursome and rich.

   My encounter with the Montessori method was purely coincidental, we had a reading lesson in high school about the first woman to enter the medicine school in Italy, that is Maria Montessori, and since I was trying to sugar-coat my painful school years, I was always researching. I searched for more about her, and I knew more about the Montessori method. I tried to read one of her books, The Discovery of the Child, the language was literary and somewhat difficult to me, I was just getting introduced to all of it. So I read articles about the method and the Children’s House. It captured my heart and I looked for courses, all I found was abroad. Several episodes in my life took me away from continuing my search.

   High school was over, I had to go to University. I implored my family to give me a chance to take one year living real life, out of this bubble called education. I was forced. But inside me I knew what I wanted. I spent the first 2 years searching for escape routes. One day in a cafe reading a magazine I found an article about a Montessori nursery in Cairo. With the last word my heart was ready to take off. I wrote down the info about the school and I contacted them, asking if there was any possibility that they could take me in for training. The great news was that I could actually get a certified Montessori diploma because the directress was giving an accredited course. There, started my wonderful journey with the Montessori world. I can’t count the times my eyes filled up with tears all the way through learning more about children and how they want to learn, my heart was squeezed many times to know that such education which I day-dreamed about during my school years is actually happening. I knew, that this was my mission in life.. Children..

   I am young, I know, 21 years old, and looking that it had been only 3 years that I am heart and soul into the Montessori [which is not right, by the way, it’s been 21 years that I am heart and soul into the “Montessori” : ) ] I might not seem like the perfect one to speak about it, but since I come freshly from the chains of the other system, I can give this close comparison and relate well to those of you who are still exploring the method. It is not easy, we need to open our minds and forsake our preconceptions.

   For the answer of the question, why I dropped out…. I won’t waste one more second compromising, it becomes a life-binding habit 🙂

    Welcome to the world of the Child.


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