The Montessori started as a school for children aged 2 ½ to 6 years and used only Montessori methods for enabling children to learn. The Montessori method uses four types of scientifically developed materials: sensorial (including geography), language, mathematical, and practical life. The main ingredients of a Montessori room are a prepared environment, a Montessori trained directress, and a mixed age group so that younger children can learn from older ones. The benefits of Montessori training are that directresses learn about child psychology, the absorbent mind, sensitive periods and tendencies in childhood. They teach the basic concepts of math, carefully observe children in the classroom and outdoors, and help children develop balanced personalities.
Initially the concept of Montessori methodology was unknown in Gilgit. Explaining the idea required showing parents what their children were doing (and why reading and writing was not a priority for young children), giving radio interviews about the method, and having journalists visit the Montessori to write about it. Enrolment increased slowly over the first few years, limited initially by understanding about the importance of early childhood education and then by the size of our rented school. It increased significantly in 2003 when we moved to a larger building, and through the efforts of Mr. Afsar Jan, MFEWO’s Administrative Officer. As of 2006, with 6 Montessori environments, we have completely outgrown our current building with over 200 children, and great demand for early childhood education exists. Table 1 shows the growth of Montessori enrolment over the years.
In 2003, we introduced a new method of early childhood education. This used the “High Scope” methodology, as taught at the Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development’s Early Childhood Certificate program. The reason for adding this was that the 1 year Montessori education program had become prohibitively expensive, and because AKU-IED offered a distance learning program for 6 months, with the first and last month in Karachi, and supervision on site in between. The High Scope method focuses on development of low or no-cost materials, use of corners in the classroom (home, language, math, music, dressing, library, plants, water, sand), and daily routines. Until now, 5 staff members have been trained in this methodology of whom 2 are still with MFM; there are two High Scope environments in the school.
There was a great demand from parents to upgrade the school from Montessori to primary. In 2003, we sent a teacher to the International School of Islamabad (ISOI) to learn how to be a first grade teacher. In2004 when she returned, we started Class 1. More staff were sent to ISOI subsequently; in 2005 we began a Class 2, in 2007 Class 3, and Class 4 is expected in 2008.
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