How do you say Montessori in Chinese?

John DeMarchi and Steven Qian

John DeMarchi and Steven Qian

Can Montessori serve as a model for education reform in China? Earlier this week, Evergreen welcomed Steven Qian, a consultant from The Guidepost Educational Development Company in China. He is working with Beijing officials to open a premier learning center there.  Mr. Qian seemed earnest in his desire to create a new model for education in China. He was open minded about Montessori ideas.  Looking into Mr. Bingcang’s room, he was fascinated to see our students concentrating deeply, working independently and talking joyfully about their school day.  And he was surprised to see the Elementary students sitting on the floor listening to Ms. Hatziyannis reading a C.S. Lewis novel aloud. He had a keen interest in the Montessori materials and learning where they can be purchased.

The longer he visited, the more I understood what a daunting task lays ahead for him: at its core, the purpose of education in China is fundamentally different than ours at Evergreen.

In each classroom, I proudly pointed out how independently our children were working.  Mr. Qian saw Emily and Ruby moving around the classroom as the set up the Bank Game without Ms. Liotta’s interventions or corrections.  He saw Krishna working on a painting and Alex with the Movable Alphabet.  And he saw Tara mastering the Hundred Board as Abe watched.

“Are the students always working so hard?” he asked.  I explained that our emphasis on internal motivation, not external teacher control keep students engaged longer. They know that they can switch gears or choose new work when they have exhausted their attention spans. This respect for the child is the foundation for how we organize the classroom and school day. We believe that children are naturally motivated learners who can make good decisions, without coercive discipline, about their class activities.

Mr. Qian explained that it may be nearly impossible in China to make teachers understand that they must first respect the child. He said that in the Chinese system, the primary goal is to teach children to respect authority.  There, education is designed to teach compliance, not independence; obedience not entrepreneurship. Desks are bolted to the floor.

When I told him that the Montessori community brags that it produced some of the world’s greatest innovators, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Jeff Bezos and Sean Combs he responded, “Maybe one day China will too. We know it starts with education.”

I applaud Mr. Qian’s efforts.  I offered to host his school’s principals and have them observe here.  Will they be as open to reform as Mr. Qian? Let’s hope so.

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  1. April 21, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Wow, Montessori method in Chinese public school could be really revolutionary! The growing competitiveness within Chinese society needs to be balanced by teaching values such as respect and helpfulness.
    Kids in rural environments are still treated today as pets while the emerging middle class’ childrer are under pressure for results on foreign languages, piano or violin, mathematics. It is still underestimated the importance of educational methods instead of quantity of notions learnt.
    Let’s do hope in some broad-minded official willing to introduce Montessori to that huge population!

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