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Questions are the new answers at Carnegie House Independent Schools

| November 14, 2015 | 1 Comment

By Sophie Carnegie

Whilst reading the spring edition of Independent Education, I came across the acronym BG – Before Google – and it gave me pause to think about the effect that Google has had, not just on our access to information, but indeed the world that we live in.

Maria Montessori lived over 100 years ago,1 and her observations and understanding of education have proved timeless and more relevant today than ever before. There are about 20 000 Montessori schools worldwide2 that educate children from birth through to around 18 years of age. These schools are found in urban and rural areas and serve children at every economic level. The schools vary in size, from a few children in a living room to the largest school in the world.3 While Montessori education goes against the grain of traditional educational methods, it presents children with opportunity and experience, and respect for self, others and the environment. It also allows children to question and discover in their own unique ways.

Meet the ‘Montessori Mafia’

Google founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin are two of a number of innovative, creative and connected explorers who attribute their success to their Montessori education. The pair launched the internet search engine Google as a project to improve library searches, and never imagined the extraordinary proportions it would take on. It has changed the way that knowledge and information is accessible to the citizens of the world, and has moved education from being knowledge-based to being based on exploring and processing. “We both went to Montessori schools,” said Page during an interview with well- known American journalist Barbara Walters, “and I think it was part of that training of not following rules and orders, and being self-motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world, and doing things a little bit differently [that led to our success].”

Other Montessori alumni include Jeff Bezos, founder of giant digital store Amazon; video game pioneer Will Wright; Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales; deceased owner and editor of the Washington Post Katherine Graham; magician David Blaine and rapper Sean ‘P Diddy’ Combs.

Peter Sims of the Wall Street Journal writes that the “Montessori educational approach might be the surest route to joining the creative elite, which are so over-represented by the school’s alumni that one might suspect a Montessori Mafia”. This conclusion was the result of an extensive six-year study about the way creative business executives think.7 The key here is that highly creative achievers don’t begin with brilliant ideas – they discover them.

To be ‘educated’ is a notion of the past. Education is no longer a destination but rather a journey, and successful 21st century organisations need people who can bring respect, imagination and creativity, as well as analytical capabilities and adaptability, to the table. Waiting to be told what to do is becoming less relevant than an ability to think for oneself. The goal of Montessori education is exactly this – to foster an independent lifelong love of discovery and new learning.

Our secret weapon

When visiting the classrooms at Carnegie House Independent Schools in Paarl and Riebeek Kasteel in the Western Cape – be it the toddler community, the three- to six-year-old community or the primary school (six to nine years and nine to 12 years) – you will be struck by classroom groups that embrace different races, religions, ages and academic abilities. Older children guide the younger ones; all take on responsibilities, working together collaboratively, respectfully and independently. You will marvel at the sight of primary school children learning to manage their time, organise their own learning pace and participating in a culture of innovation and self-discipline. This is their place of learning – a place where they are respected for who they are and helped to accept and be the best that they can be.

Our ‘secret weapon’ that underpins our pedagogical approach is the work of Barbara Clark of California State University. Her Integrated Education Model8 synthesises seven keys to optimising learning:
1. the responsive learning environment
2. relaxation and tension reduction
3. movement and physical encoding
4. empowering language and behaviour
5. choice and perceived control
6. complex and challenging cognitive activity
7. intuition and integration.

The key factor in the Integrated Education Model is the
focus on the process of learning and giving students the tools with which to become successful, responsible and independent learners.

Invigorating investigations

At Carnegie House, young people are encouraged to engage their creative genius to complete their work – how they ‘connect the dots’ differs from one child to another. We look to intrinsic motivation – completing something because you want to and care to, not for the praise, a sticker or marks. There is discussion and lots of questions. The teacher doesn’t always have the answers to the questions (and often chooses not to share the answers, either), but will guide the children on how to connect what they know to finding and discovering the answer on their own. We all experiment, sometimes getting it wrong and reworking it – not just in the academic sense of the word, but in life problems and challenges, too – together as a community of teachers, children and parents.

Montessori the right choice for me

The desire for something more than just a school education for my own children led me to hang up my scientist coat and change career directions. After extensive research, I decided to delve into Montessori preschool education 10 years ago.

Carnegie House outgrew its first preschool premises (the school started in Paarl in 2005) and then its second preschool in Riebeek Kasteel in 2009. Parent support led to the establishment of the primary schools, in Riebeek Kasteel in 2011 and in Paarl in 2013.

ISASA support

The school begins a fresh journey as a new member of ISASA. This part of the journey will lead to new support structures for the school, teachers, children and parents. We look forward to learning how independent schools in South Africa approach education. We are also looking forward to sharing our experiences with other member schools.


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Category: Summer 2015

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  1. rajan says:

    i am curious if to know if Carnegie House is part of the dale Carnegie Fondation

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