Montessori, OMEP and Early Childhood Education for Sustainable Citizenship
By Professor John Siraj-Blatchford
Maria Montessori, along with founding members of the Organisation Mondiale pour l’Education Préscolaire (OMEP) contributed significantly to the early development of UNESCO in the aftermath of World War Two, and since that time one of our enduring common interests has been in the promotion of Early Childhood Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).
For Montessori, her ‘cosmic education’, was considered a cosmopolitan education that emphasised the interdependence of each child with their peers, with adults, the wider interdependence of adults locally and globally, and the ecological interdependence of humanity with the wider natural world and environment. OMEP has increasingly grounded its arguments for ESD in the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child, we have argued that as young citizens, children constitute the major stakeholders, and have most at stake, when we consider every aspect of our future sustainability, including the combined threats of environmental degradation, climate change and reduced biodiversity.
OMEP contributed significantly to the work, and to the evaluation, of the first UN Decade for Sustainable Development (UNESCO, 2014). OMEP has also been engaged in a formal partnership with UNESCO in its Global Action Programme and in the creation and promotion of its Education for Sustainable Development Roadmap (UNESCO, 2020). The declared priorities of these initiatives have included the need to develop whole-institutional approaches to ESD, and the development of instruments that might be applied to monitor and progress ESD practice. OMEP therefore focused special attention on the development of an Educational Rating Scale for Sustainable Development in Early Childhood (ERS-SDEC) that was first published in 2016 (Siraj-Blatchford et al, 2016). The instrument was initially developed in a collaboration of OMEP preschools and academics in 10 countries, and this has subsequently been operationally adapted to provide a preschool self-audit tool for the OMEP-UK Early Childhood Education for Sustainable Citizenship (ESC) Award (Brock and Siraj-Blatchford, 2019, Siraj-Blatchford et al, 2021).
As Cavaliero (2021) has noted (in these pages) Montessori’s Cosmic Education has provided the possibility of a co-constructed curriculum, and a platform of solidarity that may be considered in sharp contrast, and offered as a conscious alternative, to the dominant discourses that seek to “privatise responsibility” and promote children’s resilience rather than their agency. These are concerns echoed elsewhere in the education for sustainable development literature (Boyde et al. Siraj-Blatchford et al, 2006). From the Montessori, and from the OMEP perspective, any prescribed ‘bolt-on’ sustainability curriculum approach should be recognised as inadequate, Education for Sustainable Development requires an entirely transformative reconstruction of our current mainstream early childhood education and care (ECEC) services.
In support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) UNESCO has drawn together over a million people in consultation to propose a new transformative ‘social contract’ for education. This is a social contract that aims at nothing less than to repair past injustices and transform the future, rebuilding our relationshipswith each other, with the planet, and with technology.
Join the webinar on Wednesday – register here.
The OMEP UK Early Childhood Education for sustainable Citizenship award Scheme
Every child, family and Early Years’ setting involved in the OMEP UK Award develops an awareness of children’s rights as citizens of the world. On enrolling, each child receives a passport and ‘visa’ stickers are then provided to record their sustainable citizenship journey. The passport may also be used to provide discounted access to venues such as conservation parks, arboretums, museums, etc., to use with their families at weekends or while on holiday.
Preschools are provided with five free to photocopy family i-care’booklets that are applied at each (Bronze, Silver, Gold) level (total 15), which relate to the three pillars of sustainability, ‘social-cultural sustainability’, ‘environmental sustainability’, ‘economics sustainability’, and, in order to become wholly sustainable citizens, we also include booklets to support the enjoyment of early literacy for sustainability and numeracy for sustainability – the activities provide strong foundations for parent partnership and setting collaboration.
Children also engage in activities in the setting, which build upon what each child ‘can do’ and what they ‘know’. The Award offers a truly child-centred approach to learning about sustainability through meaningful activities in free-flow play. The scheme is entirely consistent with Montessori principles and will provides an extension to your existing practice. Activities not only support children’s developing empathy and care for others, but also care and respect for wildlife. They learn to respect and take responsibility for their outdoor environment where they engage in practical conservation activities and develop greater awareness of and respect for cultural diversity and equality, both locally and globally. Children also learn to be ‘economic’ in their activities; they learn about thrift; about repairing and reusing resources; and the conservation of resources, such as water, electricity, paper towels and paint. All offered in free-play, self-chosen activities – activities recognising that every child is unique.
The Sustainable Citizenship Ideas guide (included in the training package and to purchase separately) offers sustainable activity ideas which are linked to and build upon what children can already do. All the activities support individual children’s holistic development and their learning outcomes. The Award enables sustainability to be embedded into early years’ learning through free-flow play and in daily routines and activities.
Montessori Europe are represented on the OMEP UK accreditation panel, and the ESC Award Audit and supporting documentation is provided on application with an OMEP associate membership fee of 40 euro (£35) per annum. OMEP UK provide the passports and stickers at an additional cost of 5 euros per child for the Bronze Level Award. The passport continues with the child for the Silver and Gold levels, with additional ‘visa’ stickers provided at a cost of 1.5 euro per child.
OMEP provides training for independent trainers who are then accredited to support preschool settings and we are also working with schools in the development of extension materials to be employed with children up to age eight. The Award strongly supports parent partnerships in ESD and has been developed to cater for small settings and childminders, as well as large providers.
The OMEP UK online training for trainers:
- 2 x ½ days (6 hours) for the Bronze Level – or two extended evenings 6pm – 9.00pm (CET).
- Training for trainers at the Silver level is currently completed in 2 x 2 hour sessions.
All of the resources required to introduce and extend practitioners knowledge and understanding of sustainable citizenship education in early childhoods are provided in the package (incl. MS Powerpoint presentations/Video exemplars etc). Training prices are available on application dependent upon the size of groups, and shared costs (our intention is to keep costs very low in order to encourage maximum application). Contact us by email.
Further information can be found here.
Brock, L. and Siraj-Blatchford, J. (2019) Education for Sustainable Citizenship: Think Children’s future today! (Activity Ideas), SchemaPlay Publications
Cavaliero, C. (2021) Towards a Pedagogy of Interdependence, Blog, https://www.montessori-europe.net/inspiration/principles-of-cosmic-education/
Siraj-Blatchford, J., and Brock, L. (2016) Education for Sustainable Citizenship in Early Childhood, SchemaPlay Publications .
Siraj-Blatchford, J., Brock, L., Moyle, V. and Yewman, D. (2021) An Evaluation of the OMEP UK Early Childhood Education for Sustainable Citizenship Award, Education and City: Quality Education for Modern Cities, European Proceedings of Educational Sciences, Vol. 2.
Siraj-Blatchford, J., Park, E. and Mogharreban, C. (Eds) (2016) International Research on Education for Sustainable Development in Early Childhood, Springer Books
UNESCO. 2014a. Shaping the Future We Want: UN Decade for Sustainable
Development (2005-2014) Final Report. Paris: UNESCO. http://unesdoc.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (2017) SDG Learning Objectives, UNESCO
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (2020) Education for Sustainable Development: A Roadmap, UNESCO