Can your child found the next Google or Amazon? Why not?

Fractions Montessori

Picture this: 3.

What is ‘3?’ You may respond it is the number 3. Then I ask, what is the number 3? You will probably have difficulty describing that one. The first thing to mind will probably be that this is a symbol but that will probably be as far as you go. What does this symbol represent? How do you define 3 without saying it represents three things?

This is a problem presented by how we learn. Our learning is abstract, we learn just these random things and then we are told to connect these random things to the physical world. Let me illustrate: I was in a room with family and my nephew was the centre of attention in this room. He started reciting a cute little song he had been taught in creche: “I can count up to 20…” and indeed he counted from 1 up to 20 in a defined rhythm. We clapped hands.


My excitement did not last long though, it waned when I realised that my nephew could not count up to 20 without first singing ‘I can count up to 20…” neither could he do it without following the prescribed rhythm. I realised my nephew actually couldn’t count up to 20. He could sing a song. A song with so many words but that really mean nothing to him. To him there was no difference whatsoever between 1 and 5 or between 19 and gtldzkx. These were all meaningless to him, they were just pieces of a song, or not so in the case of gtldzkx.

The song was completely abstract. The teacher obviously thought, or more precisely was taught, that this is how to teach toddlers the building blocks for mathematics. No wonder so many people struggled with the subject. Our foundational teaching of mathematics is so abstract that we fail to see the connection between what we are taught and the real world. That is why even in adult life you hear someone say ‘why the hell did we learn circle geometry?’ or someone else state that 90% of what they learned in school or college was never applied.

Obviously, the next step in my nephew’s education is to then teach him that 1 represents a single object, showing him pictures and teaching him a song called 10 green pawpaws on the tree top, along came the wind and one went drop, 9 green pawpaws… The problem with this method of first introducing the abstract symbol 3 before the physical object like a pawpaw is that the connection between the abstract and the real will not be fully and accurately made. School will be associated with meaninglessness at a very early age.

This observation is what made me quite impressed by the Troutbeck School in particular and the Montessori approach in general. The Montessori education process follows the natural education process: experience the physical then interpret this experience into abstract if you want. In actual fact, the abstract is presented as a system that is nothing but an invention for convenience. Let me attempt to illustrate using my nephew:

If my nephew was first given objects to play with and organise them whichever way he likes, he was going to play with these objects continuously until he figures out arrangements by quantities. This is actually done in the Montessori method. This fun activity will keep being altered until he is then introduced to the concept of numbers as a convenience for him to keep track of his stuff etc.

What this means is that for him, 3 is not a syllable in a song but it is a symbol that informs him of the specific quantity of his stuff. For him, this system and eventually mathematics is not an intimidating concept but rather a tool for his convenience. I think this is why we realise that both the founders of Google were Montessori educated, and Jeff Bezos the founder of Amazon was too.

By design the Montessori approach is deliberate and focused on the learner tapping into their own internal resources and figuring things out. The learners are not taught Math or whatever other subject so that these become impressive pieces of knowledge. Montessori learners are not impressd or surprised by new knowledge in fact they have the belief that they can organise and reorganise the pieces of information to build whatever they want because after all, all this knowledge and information is merely a convenient way of interpreting basic everyday things.

This may be difficult to understand dear reader and I assure you it is even more difficult to explain. I know there will be a debate on this and I may even called names for saying the rhymes don’t work. That antagonism only emphasises my point: we were taught to have a reverence for the system and not to question it because the order is set and there is nothing you can do about it. Who said you should always say 3 before 4? It’s worse for us who were taught these rhymes in a foreign language we could hardly understand. Essentially we learnt how to make specific sounds to make the teachers happy.

I understand though that this is not so easy to comprehend. However, if you have a child I challenge you to make an investment and visit the Troutbeck School in Nyanga. Not to enrol your child but to see what I saw and experience what I experienced. I am sure you will come back without words to describe this concept of teaching/learning the physical first before abstract. I guess we cannot explain it because we were never taught that way. If you are interested in making the trip, please fill in this form and the Troutbeck School will be in touch with you.

I will however try to pick this up in the next article in this series maybe I will have better words then. I will leave all of you who learnt Shona at O Level with a question, what is Mupanda? We sang songs and recited that thing but I realised that most did not even understand what Mupanda was. That is why you heard people say Shona yakaoma (Shona is difficult subject). I loved mipanda because I love languages and mipanda made sense to me as a convenient way of explaining the structure of the Shona nouns and how they are used etc. I understand however those who have no clue what that catchy song was all about because in many cases even our teachers didn’t know.

This is an invitation for you to look at education systems and to question why things are done the way they are. When you start doing this yourself you are already setting up your kids to possibly build the Googles and Amazons in their time. And who says their time is not now?

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11 thoughts on “Can your child found the next Google or Amazon? Why not?

    1. Actuallyit is. As relates to the founding of companies, you don’t find one. Found in this instance refers to foundations not discovery or finding something that’s lost

    1. The title is a question. It’s a question that I hope all of us can answer yes to because our children have that potential. Click baiting is a distorted statement of fact which we do not approve of here at Techzim

  1. Education is a very complex subject. I hope you are also aware of the short-comings of Montessori, some of them being, create less social kids because they work in small groups deny them social spontaneity, parents have no ability to compare the educational value of system because they are clueless of what to expect, too much focus on the child allows them to avoid and postpone what they don’t like (i.e. your child can avoid reading way past where they are supposed to be), there is no research that has proved that this is better than other academic approaches, many more other short-comings. Most systems have their limitations, so Montessori has its own as well.

    1. I agree totally with you Chanyane and you raise very important questions some of which I had not considered myself. You are also right in saying that every system has short comings. I hope this whole discourse will lead us to be continuously probing how education is being delivered. My belief is that when we deliberately ask the questions we will see greater outcomes in education. There are numerous methods out there, let,s investigate all but above all let not any one system be untouchable- they were all invented and as such they all have flaws which must be exposed

  2. Firstly, what educational methods were employed for the other thousands of successful people out there? It’s purely coincidental that Jeff Bezos and the Google chaps were educated using this Montesorri method. I doubt that is the basis of their success. It’s as good as saying, for example, Strive Masiiwa is left handed and Dangote is left handed, so to have a better chance at success, one ought to be left handed.

    Secondly, you can’t learn only those things you will apply later in life, because no-one can tell your future. A person who grew up to be an architect probably relies on circle geometry on a day-to-day basis and is glad they learnt it early.

    Thirdly, children are taught in song, because it makes it easier to remember. Their brains are still growing, rhythm is easier to remember without concious effort. Unfortunately, your nephew didn’t meet your high standards as an grown adult, but I’m sure if you ask your parents and uncles/aunts, you were like that once upon a time.

    Fourthly, if you don’t understand what mipanda are don’t presume it’s widepread problem. It could easily just be you, or the teacher who taught you that had a problem. Maybe even sometimes the company you keep. Masalad anotamba nemasalad, not that I am saying you are one. When I learnt mipanda there was nothing awkward or “hard” about it.

    Finally, because the title misled some of us here #ClickBait. Why are you waiting for your child to found the next Google or Amazon, why can’t you?

    1. You are right in saying this is not a proper scientific sample. The two examples are there because they are strong advocates of the method. Remember this was not intended to be a study on education methodologies per se but an explanation of the concept of physical to abstract learning- which I find very difficult to learn.

      Your second point agrees with mine. My point was a lot of times we apply way more than we realise because we learnt these concepts abstractly hence we may not even realise the real world applications evev though we are surrounded by them.

      I do not agree with your third point necessarily. Yes, I was taught the same way but I don’t know if that makes it the right way. However, I don’t think the important thing is for us to agree but for us to keep asking these questions. When we do that, our education methods and systems will keep getting stronger.

      I actually mention in the article that I like mipanda and understand the noun classifications. How many do? Not all. I am far from being a salad and I don’t think kusaziva mipanda is a salad problem. Mipanda is a convenient grouping of nouns so as to make sense of how the Shona language is structured but as with any language- these rules just conviniently explain the concepts so kusaziva what mipanda is does not make someone less fluent in Shona.

      Important question you asked at the end. I could be on my way to the next Google… I hope I am. I still don’t see the misleading hey, may need help there so it doesn’t happen again

      1. If you do not think the way you were taught is the right way, how do you stand educated today?

        Your problems with mipanda related to it’s teaching using some song, which I am not aware of (fortunately or unfortunately). This problem could still easily be restricted to the teacher you had. I cannot see how it that and Shona being “difficult”, could be generalised. Who are the “most” that do not understand what mipanda are?

        The title is misleading, because it creates a perception that it’s an child entreprenuerial skills article which it isn’t. Instead, it tries to create a vague and extremely loose association of the rise of the Google and Amazon founders to the Montesorri educational method, of which, it even fails to do that properly.

        When someone reads your article without being told the title, they should at least be able to guess something close to the author’s chosen title. If I were to guess the title of the article from what I read, I’d call it “Montesorri, a deviation from tradition”.

        In fact, if you remove the line, “I think this is why we realise that both the founders of Google were Montessori educated, and Jeff Bezos the founder of Amazon was too.”, the article has no association AT ALL with the title.

  3. The title and the article are not at all related, you tried to factor it in by highlighting that Google founders were educated using the Montessori way but does that mean that just those 2 or 3 cases validate this system and offer some level of confidence in it?

  4. Great post. It’s good to provide the young generation with enough information and knowledge, you’ll be surprised that most respected Cyber Security personnels started toying with computers from an early age and learnt hacking.

    Let’s make Pros and Gurus In Zimbabwe

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