“With Dr. Maria Montessori there came into the sphere of education a new and vital impulse. There is not a civili-zed country which has not In some mea-sure felt the impact of her vivifying principles”. Thus wrote Prof. E. Mortimer Standing of London University and biographer of Dr. Montessori. One can go on filling pages with quotations like the above, from sources all over the world from nearby Europe and far-off China. Montessori’s influence has opened a new chapter in the realm of child care, understanding and education and has revealed new possibilities and potentials towards a reconstruction of human soci-ety. Nor is it an influence that has waned over the years. In 1907, with the establishment of her first school “ the name Montessori flashed like a comet across the sphere of education.”
The Birth Centenary of such a ver-satile genius, to be celebrated the world over on 31st August, 1970, becomes a fitting occasion to project her mind and its brilliance all over the world and in the light of the universal principles which she established, to recharge our educat-ional approach with its life-giving power. To commemorate this auspicious occas-ion Pakistan Post Office is issuing a set of two postage stamps of 20 Paisa and 50 Paisa denominations on 31st August, 70.
Born in the small town of Charia-valle in the province of Ancona in Italy, Maria Montessori was the only child of stern Alesandra Montessori, a man deco-rated for military valour, and Renilde Steppani her devout mother, daughter of a famous philosopher, scientist and priest. Together they directed Maria’s impulsive nature wisely yet lovingly. She was reared on the principles of obe-dience, courtesy, and duty. Love and concern for the down-trodden and dist-ressed were instilled early in her nature in all kinds of practical ways.
At school she was a bright student to whom all subjects were equally agree-able and In whom there was not the slightest streak of competition or acade-mic ambition. Anxious to give their only child the best possible education, Maria’s parents moved to Rome. when she was twelve. At fourteen Maria had decided to take up engineering as a career. Since no seminary for girls catered for engineering, Maria was enro-lled in a boy’s technical school, the only girl to do so In the whole of Italy: It was a formidable experience but the strong willed young girl endured it until her ambitions altered. She now wanted to study biology and later fixed her mind upon studying medicine. She gained admission to the medical college in Rome-again the only female medical stu-dent in the whole of Italy. In 1896, Maria Montessori emerged the first woman Doctor of Medicine in Italy.
But her future lay in other direct-ions and she was steadily marching to meet it: As an assistant doctor at the Psychia-tric Clinic in the University of Rome, her duties took her into the asylums of the insane. What touched her most deeply there, was the condition of men-tally retarded children who in those days were relegated to such asylums. Emphasising the fact in a series of lectu-res, that these children needed educat-ion as much as normal ones, she succee-ded in having a state orthophrenic school set up which she was assigned to direct from 1899-1901. Under her able guida-nce, the children, hitherto regarded as hopelessly deficient and therefore useless developed to an astonishing deg-ree and were able to sit at public exami-nations with normal children, and pass. A storm of applause greeted this miracle. Dr. Montessori left the Orthophrenic School in capable hands for she felt the need for further studies and meditation in’ fact she was collecting and reserving her resources for an ‘unknown’ but definite mission.
In 1904 Dr. Montessori was appoin-ted Professor at the University of Rome where for four years she occupied the Chair of Anthropology. Her first major publication was Pedagogical Anthropol-ogy. By 1906 Dr. Montessori felt sufficie-ntly prepared and eager to experiment with normal children. So great and wide-spread was this realisation that Dr. Montessori now gave up all her former activity in which she was achieving such singular success and devoted herself to further researches and experiments in the field of child care and development. The result has been not only a method of Education which is now applied in several countries up to the Secondary level hut a whole new Psychology of the human individual, knowing which can influence the parents, adults, doctors, nurses, social workers and all working for the child towards better results in their work.
Old habits die hard. Dr. Monte-ssori worked ceaselessly to break down old prejudices. Her work and her desire to help the world’s children brought her to India in September, ,.l939. She first landed at Karachi and was enthusi-astically received at a reception. Then she proceeded to Madras where she started her first training course in. the subcontinent. She conducted several courses in Madras, Gwaliar, Ahmedabad, Kodaikanal, Kashmir and in 1946 in Karachi. The first Pakistan Montessori Training Course was held in 1949, again at Karachi.
Dr. Montessori’s researches conti-nued throughout her life and she incorp-orated her theories in the many books which she wrote and published. On 6th May, 1952. this marvelous woman, nearly 82 years old, was working in her bed, writing, in a little village home in Holland, facing the sea. It was after-noon and she asked for lunch. But be-fore she could finish it-the heart just stopped and the dynamic spirit quietly slipped out to soar other heights more conducive to its majesty and greatness.