The students from Mallorca had some time to explore New York. | Montessori School of Mallorca

Last month a group of 14 students aged between 11 and 14 from the Montessori School of Mallorca in Santa Maria del Camí participated in a United Nations conference in New York - the closing day of which was held in the United Nations General Assembly and was attended by diplomats representing countries from around the world all keen to hear what the future generation had to say about global issues which affect us all.

Montserrat Povill Pacheo (right) with the students at the UN in New York
Montserrat Povill Pacheo (right) with the students at the UN in New York.

The founder, owner and director of the school, Montserrat Povill Pacheo, is originally from Barcelona, but prior to opening the school in 2015 she had spent much of her career working for the United Nations, in particular on UNICEF’s children’s rights programmes around the world, mainly in developing countries. She said that her school has been actively involved with the UN educational debate programme for many years, but this was the first year her students were able to take part in the event at the United Nations headquarters. “Apart from children’s rights and what the United Nations stands for, I’ve also been passionate about education all of my life and when I began looking for a school for my children in Mallorca I couldn’t find what I wanted, so I decided to open my own. The Montessori School of Mallorca is a private, international nursery, a primary and secondary school for young people aged 3 to 16. We operate as a British school in Spain. The school follows the English national curriculum and a Montessori curriculum. We offer student-centred secondary education with small classes for teenagers up to 16 years based on the National Curriculum in England.

“At age 16, our students pass both the Spanish ESO certification and the British GCSE. The school’s vision and outlook are international. While English is the main language in the school, we also teach Spanish, Catalan and German.

“Our children and their families come from 24 countries around the world and we have 120 students in total, so we’re a rather small British international school but it works very well,” she said.

“What I have done is taken the Montessori curriculum and added the values of what the United Nations stands for in order to provide a much more rounded educational development approach,” she added.

“Montessori is a method of education that is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play. In Montessori classrooms children make creative choices in their learning, while the classroom and the highly trained teacher offer age-appropriate activities to guide the process. The five principles are - respect for the child, the absorbent mind, sensitive periods, the prepared environment and auto education. But I wanted to expand this and adopt an even more practical, grounded, rounded and inclusive approach so that our students are more aware of what is really happening in the world and society around them and the real challenges they will face in later life. I want them to be as best prepared as possible for when they have to go out into the world, how to communicate, relate to people and have an understanding and respect for other cultures, religions, attitudes and ways of life - that they have a global vision. This is why the United Nations programme we are involved in is so important. We are the only Montessori school in the Balearics but there were a total of 1,500 students at the convention in New York. Previously, we’ve always participated in a similar annual event in Rome, and will continue to do so, but we also intend to return to New York and walk in the footsteps of all the great leaders who have been in charge of the United Nations and those who have addressed the Assembly over all the years,” she said.

“For the students it is demanding. They have to learn about diplomacy, debating and public speaking. It is a nine-month process but it is not competitive, it’s collaborative, that’s how the United Nations works, for example. This was the fifth year we have taken part in the debate programme, which I call MUN, and the students involved either choose or are designated a country. They begin by studying their given country in depth, as if they were preparing to be an ambassador for that country. They have to explore and learn about the country’s economy, geographics, the social fabric, religion, internal conflicts and problems for indigenous people, the politics, culture, all of the specifics to understand how the country works and its challenges and problems - all the real issues the United Nations looks at, topics on the UN agenda, and what they are currently discussing. Students will, moreover, take on different roles, such as being on the security council, so they will have to tackle issues relating to peace and security, while others may have to focus on the eco-social issues. It’s very complex but extremely exciting.

“Then they have to prepare and write a dissertation, which is then put forward at the debates. In March we spent the best part of a week in New York.

“The three days at the main convention at the Marriott in Times Square and the final fourth day with the closing speeches and the resolutions inside the General Assembly were an amazing experience for the students. The diplomats and other representatives in attendance realised that children can make a difference, that they can produce resolutions to very complex issues and that they do have a vision for the future.

“It was a very powerful experience and it’s all about giving children, my students, an international profile. It’s about vocational teaching and trying to ensure that when our students go on to take their A levels and then go to university, they are self-motivated, independent individuals who have a passion for learning which they will carry with them for life and be able to look at life from a different angle to those students who have come up through the traditional, and often outdated, educational system. This dates back to the Industrial Revolution and has hardly been changed or adapted to the world we now live in.

“We look at the bigger issues and I fear that some schools are often too over protective of their students.

“We like to ignite their brains with a more hands-on approach,” Montserrat explained.

And she should know. Just after the Afghanistan War, for example, she spent four years on the ground as part of the UNICEF team charged with working with the Afghan government in reopening the schools and also giving girls access to education.

But sadly, while the programme initially worked, the more progressive government failed to hold up and now the country has fallen back into disarray and girls are again banned from education.

Montserrat was also key to Barcelona football club having UNICEF on its shirts and Messi being made a UNICEF Ambassador.

In fact, she spent a couple of years as Messi’s ‘handler’, for a better word, and accompanied him on numerous trips he made around the world as an Ambassador.

“He’s a wonderful and genuine person, having come from a rather humble background himself, and does care.

“What is more, when children see and listen to someone like Messi talking about the importance of education, health and sport, for example, they take much more notice than they would to a lecture from someone they don’t know and to whom they can’t relate,” she added.

Montserrat has also been deployed to Nepal, various parts of Africa and Asia and is now channelling all her experience and knowledge into her students with the aid of a team of extremely well-qualified teachers.