25th IDEC 3rd APDEC 1st InDEC 2018

Bangalore, India

“International Democratic Education Conference (IDEC) started when a group of educators from different parts of the world, met, initiated by Hadera School, during when Democratic Education was the phrase used by Yaacov Hecht, the school's founder. From being alternative or free schools to a place where children could run the school, have the freedom to be themselves, seemed to be the path forward. The IDEC got its structure from the next meeting, when it was held in Sands School, where the children felt it should be for a week or more, with some planned sessions but also to have the space for spontaneous workshops to happen within the conference...

As Democratic Education spread to different regions of the world, each region set up their own Conferences. So, Europe, initiated EUDEC and Asia, along with Australia and New Zealand, the Asia-Pacific Democratic Conference - the APDEC. The first APDEC was held in Taiwan in 2016, organised mainly by the alumni and staff of Holistic School. The 2nd was held by Tokyo Shure University, in Japan. And the third APDEC, was held in India, along with IDEC 2018, We could say it is IDEC 2018 @ APDEC or the other way round.

India, as we know is not a small country, and perhaps an InDEC is required as an ongoing space for people to meet, share and support one another. IDEC and APDEC are one-time events in India, however InDEC could grow and be held in different locations each year... “ (From the IDEC 2018 website.)

With little or no knowledge of what to expect, I registered for the InDEC conference in Bengaluru in November 2018. Ms. Amukta Mahaptra, Convener IDEC 2018 also requested me to be one of the speakers at the conference on the topic, “Teacher Development and Autonomy.”

I attended the conference from Saturday 17 November 2018 and was there fulltime only for the last two days. I would like to share my experiences there and the lessons I learnt about democracy in education from the children who participated in it.

About 400 people- children and adults attended the conference from 20 countries.

I realized that young adults in their teens were speaking at some sessions and a couple of Montessori schools from Coimbatore and Bengaluru had their children present their project or the philosophy of the school. I met children from Shaswath School, Amaravathi in Maharashtra and Marudam Farm School in Tiruvannamalai near Chennai.

Children from Samskaara Academy, Coimbatore presented their project “ Nadhiyai Naadi” Quest for KanchiManadhi(In Search of a River). These were children from Grades 7-9. They had a video presentation saying, “It was our journey to uncover the story of our precious river that began in April 2018.”


While I thought it would be a story of their project, it went far beyond that and as each of them spoke they seamlessly presented the changes in their own lives and how they began to bring about changes in their homes and their streets. As my friend Tom, who was also part of the audience said, “ It was presented with passion and from their hearts.” It was indeed filled with humour as they wove in the attitudes of younger siblings and even parents as they tried to share their concerns and bring in life style changes! Simple, straightforward and compelling that one could only remember Montessori's words, “ The Child is both a hope and a promise for mankind.”

When I congratulated the children, one of them said to me, “ I listened to some of the other speakers, Ma'am, and everyone spoke directly and openly. I decided I too would just speak openly of what I felt.” One could only smile and appreciate the valor and courage of the adolescents as they undertook a journey for a cause that was close to their hearts.

Another group of children from Shashwath School in Amaravathi and I jointly attended a session by Ms. Shaista Kubra who presented, A Test of Self Determination theory in Schools where she said she would compare Montessori Schools and conventional schools. During her session she spoke of mindfulness and how it is important to live in the moment. She also gave as an example how we tend to brood about the past when we go on thinking of the way in which friends or others may have hurt us and imagine how we should give it back to the concerned person in the future. She promised to help the participants learn to forget and forgive or “move on”! She did too at the end of her session. Some from the group of adolescents from Shashwath were her instant fans and wanted her autograph ….even promised to call her if they wanted to speak to her later. They told me, it was a very meaningful session for them as they readily admitted that they usually did what she had described!

The Elementary children of The Earth School, Bengaluru were part of the presentation, Unboxing the Earth Schooldone by Ms. Pooja Pandit and Ms. Esme Davis.

While the adults spoke of the work being done following the Montessori principles and following the Child, the children spoke about many of the concepts in-built in the Earth School, like 'help' and 'freedom' and what it meant to them. From reading a poem, which one of them had written, to using gracefully executed movements to express the different kinds of freedom, they were a delight to watch and listen. Pooja and Esme explained how they have now included free play in the school and its advantages and benefits for the holistic development of the children.

As we walked around the conference campus, we had opportunities to interact with diverse people from ever so many countries. One young person was wearing a T- shirt with GANDHI written at the back. He told me his school, called Gandhi School, was in S. Korea and they followed the principles of Freedom, Health, Love and Wisdom.

Ms. Prema Rangachari, working with children from tribal families, in Anaikatti, Coimbatore Dist, spoke about how the curriculum had been evolved following the needs of the children and the community.

There were people interested to know about the work I was doing and one person wondered why we were talking about Montessori and Steiner who had discovered methods that were over a hundred years old. Such queries led to interesting in-depth discussions.

What was evident was the democratic spirit of the conference culture, where people made choices of where to go, who to listen to and what kind of discussions and debates they want to be part of.

It was truly an eye opener for me that such spaces could be created for adults and children to participate joyously and work towards harmoniously building a society for the present as well as for future generations.

There is a plan to hold InDEC 2019 in Tamil Nadu and I hope many Montessori educators will attend it to experience the joy of meeting a whole host of people--- adults and children and work in a democratic space to truly understand Montessori as well.

As we take leave of various groups, there are warm invitations to visit schools. I look forward to going on a 'walkabout' and visit as many schools as I can in 2019!