Sunday, January 27, 2013

Back to School

The first few days in a foreign land can have a steep learning curve, particularly in a culture as distinct as India's. Fortunately for me, my very first host, Rtn. Prabha Padmanabhan, was a teacher!

Prabha, alongside her husband, A. Padmanabhan, founded the Surjana Montessori School in 1999. Prabha is the principal of the school, which serves children from ages 3 to 12. She generously gave me a tour of the school and introduced me to her students.

I was immediately struck by how quiet it was - a far cry from my memories of 1st through 5th grade. And when we entered the classrooms, there were no teachers at the head speaking to everyone. Instead I found students sitting alone on mats or in groups of two or three quietly working, many of them on very different exercises.

Prabha explained to me that the Montessori Method of schooling centers on encouraging children to learn subjects on their own - self-motivation that will serve them well as they move onto higher education. Classrooms have facilitating instructors, but students spend most of their time selecting books and activities from the classroom shelves and then work on independently. In a class I observed, the morning session was dedicated to Mathematics. Some children were filling in addition tables by pencil, while others used a bead game to learn about counting. The only thing that united all the students was their very high level of engagement and concentration - again, certainly something foreign to my schooling experience.

Montessori schools can be found in countries around the world - including the USA - but what struck me most about the Surjana Montessori School was not the unique teaching style. What I really came away with was an appreciation for how perfect an example of Rotarian service the school is. The Padmanabhan's own children are fully grown and they have built a comfortable living for themselves. Instead of going quietly into retirement, they chose to invest their knowledge and resources into their community, making a lasting impact on children for generations to come.

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