International Symposium in Argentina on Early Education: pedagogical challenges for the coming years

By Dr Stephen Tommis, CEO Montessori St Nicholas charity

At the beginning of September 2016 both myself and Barbara Isaacs, MSNs Chief Education Officer received a surprise invitation to attend an international symposium on early education in Buenos Aires from the Argentine Ministry of Education and Sport.

The symposium was convened by the Argentine government inviting presentations from different educational pedagogical establishments around the world, to help inform its plan to build 3000 public nurseries in the regions over the next three years.

During the two day conference, each establishment would be called on to present an outline of its own pedagogical model. Ultimately the Argentine government would then decide which model would be best suited to fulfilling the local needs of the economy, society and the diversity of the provinces. Argentinas federated political system means that it is the provinces that decide which pedagogy and delivery model to adopt. That decision will ultimately be put to the provincial vote by the government.

Montessori St Nicholas was chosen by the Argentine ministry to represent the Montessori movements worldwide and we were simultaneously both curiousnot having visited Argentina before – and honoured and excited to be invited.

The conference lasted two days from 1-2 September. Day one saw introductory speeches from Estoban Bullrich, Argentinas Federal Minister for Education and Sport, followed by Andres Delich, Director of the Argentine Office of the OIS and finally Florence Bauer, UNICEFs representative in Argentina.

The aim of the first day was to introduce the debates at regional level on the development of language and literacy during early childhood; to understand the value of play in teacher training for early childhood and finally, to understand the teaching of ICT during early childhood.

In the meeting that followed we examined and discussed the following three themes: playing – main learning experiences during the first years; development of language and literacy in early childhood; early education and ICT.

Day two saw participation from Argentinian bureaucrats and delegates from the regions including: directors of the local administrations for early education; early education team from the Ministry of Education and Sports; National Institute of Teacher Training; Directorates for Primary and Secondary Education; National Department for Educational Planning; National Department for Social and Educational Policies.

The five pedagogical models represented included:

  1. Montessori
  2. Reggio
  3. Libre Corriente
  4. Waldorf
  5. Project Zero

Myself and Barbara Isaacs spoke first on day two about the principles and practice of Montessori education in England. Within this broad subject area, we covered the vital importance of the first five years of a childs life, the distinctiveness of the child-led Montessori approach and the characteristics of a Montessori education. We also compared traditional with Montessori approaches. Finally we looked at the training of Montessori practitioners and within that the role of MCI and the range of courses offered by MCI.

There followed two presentations by other delegates – one on early childhood education: pedagogical challenges from the childrens rights perspective and another about the need for strategic planning to universalise access to education for children aged 3-4 years.

This was in turn followed by a fascinating break out discussion amongst the provinces on the pedagogical value of each model and their implementation possibilities in kindergartens in Argentina.

The discussion was drawn to a conclusion with an opportunity for ministry staff to put questions on each of the models to representatives.

In conclusion, I would say that it is always a privilege to be asked to represent an organisation in the international community and to consider how Montessori might be implemented in a new and national education jurisdiction. The challenges facing Argentina are huge, not least because of the scale of their ambitions and the diversity between the provinces, but we met with enormous enthusiasm for the project and with public funding, in part from the World Bank, the prospects are exciting for the countrys youngest children, many of whom receive no early years education.