I am happy that through our discussions we have come to the conclusion to work unpretentiously and begin at the beginning. But let me say that this beginning does not start at the primary school, and – forgive me the remark – that the school is not the same as education.
The wisdom of mankind dates back to primitive times and there have not always been schools.
While the application of my experiences as an educationalist extend to university level, and although probably only a few have studied the psychological development of man at every stage as I have; although I am therefore aware of the significance of the primary and secondary school as much as of the university, I would repeat once more that the school should not be the objective of this Institute but people, the whole person, and this person begins at birth.
There is no international institute which concerns itself with the pre-school age. Our institute will undertake this and I am certain that the whole world will derive benefit from it. If on the other hand we were to deal only with schools and school-children, we should perhaps encounter indifference and boredom.
Let us concentrate on this neglected age, on children at the pre-school age, and we shall set up a landmark to the Millennium, indicating a new path of justice and salvation in international endeavours.
At the same time, insofar as my experience is well-founded, you will reveal a treasure trove, the riches of which will cause the world to marvel, and from which mankind and you yourselves will derive an unlooked-for reward.
My proposal demands courage perhaps, and I offer it therefore to your courage, to your educational ideal, to your spirit of sacrifice, which has been dedicated to the welfare of mankind. I am presenting it in the form of a personal resolution. If it is approved, I hope that the whole Governing Board will assist the Director in the difficult task of implementing it:
"The Governing Board decides that the Board shall consider all possibilities with a view to concentrating, in the initial phase at least, the work of the Institute on the area of the pre-school child. For this purpose, the Board and the Director will examine every means of bringing together educationalists, psychologists, psychiatrists, adult educators, Ministers of Culture and parents to co-operate in this area. The Board and the Director should arrange shorter meetings and consult with experts in order to draw up a more precise programme to be presented to the Board at its next session."
Maria Montessori gave this speech at the first meeting of the Governing Board of the UNESCO Institute for Education on 19 June 1951.
It is due to her influence that the second international seminar held at the new Institute in January 1953 took up the theme of the pre-school child. She could not attend this meeting as she died on 7 May 1952.