Every Child Deserves to Be Treated with Dignity
Interview with Vidya Shankar
Vidya Shankar is the founder of CASCADE Montessori Rural Research Centre in India. They have centers in the rural villages Narasingapuram and Jamunamarathur.
Vidya found that one of the key causes of juvenile delinquency was the lack of access to quality education. After thorough research, she was convinced of ability of the Montessori method to support the holistic development of the child, preparing the students for a world that increasingly calls for self-reliance. Centers have been set up in two rural villages, with a section for toddlers up to three years old and a section for children from three to six. In the evenings, the older children who go to government schools can use the centers as a space for learning and activities. The Montessori trained staff are from the community themselves, which creates trust and facilitates the relationship with the community. We asked Vidya some questions about the role of children's rights in her work.

1. Could you give us a practical example of how you engage children in thinking about and understanding their own rights?

The children we handle in the classroom are younger than 6 and hence we are mindful of the respectful language and role modelling as a priority. When we invite outside families and older students to visit our place, we give them a basic idea of what child rights mean, and why our children deserve it, additional to the role of adults in safeguarding these rights. They are intrigued on how children have separate rights and that internationally it is accepted that every child deserves to be treated with dignity and access to learning as per their developmental need.
Our guides conduct outreach programmes, giving sessions to youth on the culture and quality of life that is lost when migration happens and their role in safeguarding the local resources, that is possible with this form of education.
2. Could you give us some practical examples or anecdotes on the way you promote children's rights among parents and teachers?

We do parent study circles, in the regional language and online, where quite a few parents join in. Essentially, it is also a refresher for our guides there, who have their families and friends in the community. They constantly invite them to the classroom, where the community can see how children work, make decisions, with poise and dignity. Their gait and conduct have appealed to the community, who in turn become ambassadors of our work. They understand that there is a deeper meaning in our approach, where respect for children and the parents form the baseline. They are slowly adapting themselves to the idea that educated does not mean just literacy but also forming the whole personality. There are discussions around these topics in self-help groups sometimes, we are told.
3. The rights of the child are central to your work. Among other things, you talk about the child's right to peaceful education as a mode to prevent migration into cities. Could you elaborate on the importance of this issue and how you promote this in the villages?

Our guides are local youth who were trained by us, so they are our spokespersons. They have the language and philosophical content to appeal to the intellect and emotions of parents and the local community. They conduct outreach programmes, giving sessions to youth, among many other topics, on the culture and quality of life that is lost when migration happens and their role in safeguarding the local resources with the land engagement, that is possible with this form of education.
The focus of CASCADE Montessori is on children's rights, parenting and the importance of developmentally appropriate education as a basic right. As a result of their continuous efforts to involve the local community in every step of the process, the two rural centers are thriving, promoting the rights of the child and offering quality education day after day.
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