Montessori Is Not A Money Making Business

The more I read Dr Montessori’s books the more I see she wanted her method to be accessible to children all over the world. Her intention was to serve the child, she didn’t have any intention to make this method elitist and only for the rich children.

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I never really witnessed the commercialization of Montessori education when I lived in the UK. Most Montessori school in England are just about scraping by, sometimes even unable to make ends meet. I’ve seen it many times where the Montessori school owners are unable to have a decent salary because there simply isn’t enough funds available. Most of my friends who own Montessori schools take salaries less than their teachers, and there isn’t any profit left at the end of the year to take! Even the Montessori teachers, with years of experience and training, get a very basic salary. Most Montessori teachers start off their salaries on the minimum wage. The dedication and love of these school owners and teachers is amazing. They don’t do it for the money, or the fame, they do it simply for the child!

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When I arrived in Malaysia I was completely taken back by the commercialization of Montessori schools. The first thing that hit me hard, was seeing the unrealistic fees Montessori schools are charging. How is it possible for a pre-school monthly fee to be equivalent to the fulltime national minimum wage of an adult? How can parents even begin to afford such extortionate fees? Even when fees are half of the national wage, that’s still completely unaffordable for the majority of parents.

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My second shock was noticing the trend in Malaysia for Montessori school owners to open multiple schools. Sometimes 10 or more schools are opened by one person! I don’t even know why someone would want to have so many Montessori schools! I can only think of two Montessori schools in the UK who have more than one location. All of the school owners I know have only 1 school and focus their full energy and time on making that one school the best it can be for the children it serves.

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During in my first year in Malaysia, I did what most Montessori teachers would do, and visited all the Montessori schools I could find. Knowing the fees that schools charge I imagined the facilities would be amazing and classrooms would be authentic. But sadly, visit after visit, my heart broke to see these so called ‘Montessori’ schools not providing the quality environments that the children deserve. I noticed another trend, the name Montessori is used, but when it comes to implementation, there is no Montessori philosophy being applied. No three hour workcycle, no freedom of choice, no mixed aged classrooms, no individual presentations, no following the child, no real practical life and the list goes on. Although the outer packaging might say Montessori, what’s inside is far from it. I remember thinking, no wonder why Montessori education isn’t popular in Malaysia, no wonder why parents are reluctant to send their children.

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When Montessori becomes a business, it is no longer about the child and their journey of growth and development.

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Another thing that hit me was how newly trained Montessori teachers would immediately set up their own schools and sometimes even training centers. Without even having had the experience of running a Montessori classroom. Talk about trying to run before you can stand! Some of these newly trained teachers have never even ran a classroom before and suddenly run a school. No wonder why Montessori education is being implemented so poorly in Malaysia! Montessori teacher training is so important, but it is only 5% of what you need. You can’t just walk out of training and magically be able to run a Montessori school effectively. It takes a lot of time and experience to actually learn how to implement the philosophy in practice. The other 95% comes from continuous reading and studying and of course classroom practice. New teachers need to work under an expert Montessori teacher and mentor for at least 3 years before venturing off to open their own independent school. In those first three years you learn so much, you make so many mistakes and you really need someone there to observe you and guide you. Of course, there are times when there aren’t any Montessori schools available and you have to do it on your own. But if you have the opportunity to work with an experienced teacher, please take it, you’ll learn so much. This mind set of newly trained Montessori teachers, setting up their own schools and training centers worries me considerably. In the UK Montessori teachers are so excited and happy when they get an offer to work in a school. Most are not even dreaming of having their own school yet!

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Even after being a Montessori teacher for 18 years, I am still constantly learning more and realizing how much more I am yet to understand.

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And then we have a much newer trend, newly trained teachers (and sometimes not even trained yet) running Montessori training courses and writing books. This really scares me so much. I can’t understand how someone who has just learn a new skill. I mean think of it like this, would you be happy for a newly trained surgeon to perform their first ever surgery on you without being supported by a mentor? Would you be happy for this newly trained surgeon who has never done a surgery before to train other surgeons and then they operate on you? Would anyone risk this? There are specific standards for Montessori training which are in place to prevent things like this from happening. One of the basic criteria for a Montessori trainer is to have a minimum of 5 years full-time classroom experience, postgraduation, per level. When teachers who are not experienced run training, they pass on incomplete and often inaccurate information and this is one of the biggest factors that has created the very unauthentic approach to Montessori here in Malaysia.  

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When I look of all this, I find myself reflecting and asking; what is your intention for becoming a Montessori teacher? Are you doing this for the children? Or are you doing this for fame and money? If your focus is the latter…then you will never truly become a Montessori teacher…go back to what Dr Montessori said and remember this method is all about serving the child!

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