29-04-2019

A visit to Cyprus

Mirjam Stefels 

During the congress in Sofia Hatice Duzgun invited me to visit North Cyprus in order to help thinking about the future of Montessori education there. In this part of Cyprus there are ten Montessori schools for children from 2-6 years, both state and privately funded.

The first day of my visit I went to five schools, accompanied by Hatice Duzgun and by Serife Celebi, a teacher of English who acted as interpreter during my visit. Four of these schools were private schools, led by Hatice, who also trains the teachers. In the past Hatice worked for the Ministry of Education and at various regular schools; therefore she has many contacts and a few state schools have now also joined the training programme.

Is was very touching to observe how proud teachers are of the children and their work. They work enthusiastically at creating the prepared environment.  In this they succeed, although they are uncertain at times.  This kind of visit is inspiring but at the same time sensitive: I am not a school inspector, but teachers experience this in a different way: they are nervous and have taken care of extra cleaning. They take their work seriously and want to do their utmost to show this. They ask questions such as: “Is the way I do it right?” “What do you think of the cabinets?” These are understandable questions that I feel I should answer, but without judging them. After all, I am nothing but a Montessori pedagogue, although with a lot of experience. For me it is important to reflect on the Montessori pedagogy and its possibilities – these are especially relevant here.

The state schools are housed in traditional school buildings and class rooms are set in the same style. This makes for more traditional schools, whereas the private schools are housed in former private dwellings, which is very different and has the effect of a Montessori house. Is that difference ”right” or “wrong”? Sometimes a school starts out when there is space to develop in the broad sense of the word. Children are challenged at cognitive and social emotional level and should enjoy their schooldays. 

That children do enjoy their life at school is beyond doubt. I saw them at work, intensively, but also relaxed reading a book together or enjoying communal activities. I got a reception as if I was a queen: an orange was squeezed for me, I received a garland of flowers made by children and their teachers. And a spontaneous welcome by a child who asks in English who you are and what the purpose of your visit is, made my heart melt… 

The second day was more official, with a visit to Ministry of Education. Montessori schools are tolerated, but not completely accepted, largely because of a lack of knowledge. Therefore my task was to explain the work of Montessori Europe and to make clear that recognition at the national level is important. I also gave an interview, broadcast by radio and television, in which information about montessori pedagogy was the key message.

Looking back on the visit to the Minister of Education I think it was successful.  I emphasized that training facilities for teachers 6-9 are necessary for the development to primary education. This training should be situated within the national training programme. The minister understood this and invited us to explore this together. He is also willing to support a future ME congress in Cyprus. After a  photo session we left the Ministry satisfied.

I look back on my visit with admiration for the work and enthusiasm of Hatice, her colleagues and the children at the schools. Back in The Netherlands a colleague at work had seen a photo on my Facebook page and asked me where I had been. When I told her I had been to Cyprus for Montessori Europe she said: “Wow, that is a holiday!“ I smiled, thought of all the (thinking) effort such a visit takes and said: “Yes, a successful Montessori holiday.”