81 years ago Maria Montessori spoke about the speed of technological change, and how this posed a threat to humanity. She pointed out how technological shifts changes society in ways that were not deliberately chosen. Huge changes “just happen” – and neither we as citizens, nor our political leaders – are necessarily aware of it until it is too late. At the time, human development had not kept up with technological development according to Maria Montessori.
This was in 1946. What is the situation now – in 2017 – and what is our responsibility?
Technological development has reached a level which most of us are unable to grasp. Even the most advanced specialists in Artificial Intelligence can only follow the development within his or her focus area. The development of Artificial Intelligence and technology revolutionize access to better health, better nutrition, improved production, infrastructure, and human capacity in general. At the same time, this development has created a situation in which we, as society and as individuals – voluntarily and unpaid – give the worlds wealthiest and most powerful companies, Google, Facebook and the like – access to our inner thoughts and our private life. This information is what these companies build their wealth upon.
Students are given access to “external intelligence” through early use of advanced technology with child-friendly interface. Our children face social challenges, overflow of information and disinformation, digital bullying and influences beyond our imagination. Learning through physical play is exchanged by learning through computers. Direct contact with friends is exchanged by virtual contact. And no one deliberately let this happen. There was no political plan or strategy behind it. It just happened – as Maria Montessori described it already almost a century ago.
The many positive sides of this development are obvious. We can communicate with friends and colleagues anywhere in the world. A farmer in the hills of Shan State in Myanmar can get immediate access to the market price of her products, and avoid being underpaid by agents monopolising market information. Education can be accessed over internet, as can health services. Immediate access to information and knowledge is of great value.
It is our responsibility and duty to help the coming generation utilize this development to improve their own lives and society at large, while we avoid the negative implications.
“This is education, understood as a help to life; an education from birth, which feeds a peaceful revolution and unites all in a common aim, attracting them as to a single center. Mothers, fathers, politicians: all must combine in their respect and help for this delicate work of formation, which the little child carries on in the depth of a profound psychological mystery, under the tutelage of an inner guide. This is the bright new hope for mankind.” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 15)
“An education capable of saving humanity is no small undertaking; it involves the spiritual development of man, the enhancement of his value as an individual, and the preparation of young people to understand the times in which they live.” (Education and Peace)
And the times in which we live – and our future for good and bad – looks somewhat like this:
- A population growth of unprecedented magnitude
- The fourth industrial revolution
- Polarization and conflict – both religious and political
- Increasing nationalism – and increased globalization of markets
- Social and geographical mobility opens new possibilities
- Climate change with unknown consequences
As Montessori kindergartens and schools, we must act upon these challenges and opportunities. No other pedagogical system is better equipped to prepare our children than Montessori. Our students will meet professional requirements that we presently do not know. The types of jobs do not exist today. How can we prepare our students when we do not know for what we prepare them?
A centennial before the UN and the entire world agreed on a set of very ambitious, but crucial goals to save humanity, Maria Montessori built her pedagogical principles and philosophy on the same vision. A world were we all can live well within the limits of our planet. What she developed seems so intuitively right, based on the observation of the child, and on a profound respect for nature and human beings, that it is no surprise that recent neuroscience research confirm her theories, and that the solutions to todays challenges lie very much in the pedagogical methods of a Montessori School. Aligning the Montessori Schools with future needs, we only need to incorporate programs dealing with the new challenges and develop individual strategies at each school to become fully operational Montessori 2030 schools.
Since Maria Montessori´s time, world population has increased exponentially, as have the threats to nature, peace and humanity in general. Her vision of seeing each individual child and helping us all understand the beauty and grandness of our sacred Earth, and how we are all intertwined, is now shared by many leading institutions. Children´s rights have been formally institutionalised. However – we still have hundreds of millions of children living as child labourers, child soldiers, child slaves, refugees, or living in extreme poverty. Human rights are violated in all parts of the world, and our planet is under severe climate threats.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the Global Goals, have been ratified by 196 countries – basically the entire world. These goals must be met by 2030 for the world to save humanity as a whole. There will be around 12 billion people on this planet by 2050, and the Global Goals are set to secure a future for all those 12 billion. Countries, institutions, business communities and individuals all over the world have come together to do their part – and collectively build momentum for the Global Goals to be met. The Goals are ambitious, but we must succeed. There is no Plan B – and there is no Planet B.
The SDGs have been organised into 17 goals. Within each of these are more specific goals. We cannot all work for all goals, but we can use the SDGs as a tool to find out how we as individuals and institutions can take a lead, or just do our best as part of other initiatives.
The Montessori 2030 strategy
In the Norwegian Montessori Community, we are now developing and implementing a strategy and plan for our institution to be an inspiration and leader for the Global Goals in our local community.
We invite the Montessori community to join us in developing a strategy for Montessori Schools all over the world to take an active role as part of the solution. We owe this to our children. They are well aware of the challenges we face, and many of them meet them every day. We owe it to Maria Montessori, who has given us the tools to meet the inherent needs and opportunities in each child at any stage in history.
Our aim is twofold:
1) to help our students become the change-makers the world needs today and in the future
2) to make sure we as institutions are part of the solution in all we do.
Maria Montessori had a very clear vision for education. By building awareness of the SDGs, we have seen that the child can easier find a way in the jungle of issues and challenges of our time. We believe that Montessori 2030 can be an effective a tool to help the child become aware of her role in society, and to find solace in the fact that we are all working together to towards common goals for a better future.
Together, we will build the Global Goals into the students´ school day.
Below is an introduction to the project we invite you all to take part in:
The students as changemakers
Aligning our schools to the 17 goals is easy, as the vision of Maria Montessori is embracing peace, and respect for people, culture, and nature so beautifully and logically.
However, we see in many classrooms that the tasks of the everyday work can often take over, and for the teachers to maintain focus in a hectic world can be difficult. Also, the lives of our children are influenced by so many materialistic values, conflicts, intense media consumption and other negative influences on their minds, that the tasks of the teacher become difficult. Children and youth today are scared. It is hard for them to find a way in a world full of challenges. They see increasing hatred, xenophobia, poverty and inequality. They see manmade climate challenges, and they see that still too many leaders are in denial, and too many are passive.
The Institutions as part of the solution
As institutions, we can take many steps to be part of the solution. Here a just a few examples:
Our schools are institutions. These institutions purchase products and services. In these roles, we can take an active part. We can make sure we know the origins of the products services we purchase – all through the value chain. How are the computers and smartphones made? Have child slaves been digging hundreds of meters under the surface to get the necessary minerals for our products?
- Do we ensure that our staff and student body include a diversity of ethnicity, gender, social background etc?
- Do we help the little girls and boys avoid gender stereotypes?
- Do we help the families understand how they can be part of the solution?
- Are we as carbon neutral as we possibly can?
- Are we using a financial service that is not involved in any financing of war, climate-challenging investments?
- Are we using our power to improve our own and our constituents´ SDG friendly behaviour?
These are just a few of the questions we will ask, and find answers and solutions to together.
The child that enters a Montessori school today, will graduate from her junior high school in 2030. In reality – the future is now. It is our obligation to Maria Montessori that we take on this task, and we offer to lead in the effort.