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Umuntu, Ngumuntu, Ngabantu…

Umuntu, Ngumuntu, Ngabantu…

Umuntu, ngumuntu, ngabantu… Three words that resonate so beautifully with the spirit of Montessori.


So what about umuntu, ngumuntu, ngabantu?

This translates from Zulu into “A person is a person because of people”.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu expands this further by explaining that no human comes into this world fully formed. We would not know how to think, or walk, or speak, or behave as human beings unless we learned how to do this from other human beings. We need other human beings in order to be a human being.

Another way of expressing ubuntu, ngumuntu, ngabantu could be – I am because other people are.

Again, the synergy with Montessori principles struck me here. As humanity, we are indeed the product of our environments. Early experiences, positive or non-positive, shape the adults and human beings that we are to become. Montessori believed strongly that the hope of humanity lay within the child.

This is ubuntu. The spirit of reciprocal living that envelops a community in healing energy.

In dealing with the youngest human beings in our classrooms, now more than ever the need for ubuntu is great. The world is not in a happy place, and the human beings that are running the world, are not happy people. At this point there is very little collective ubuntu.

So let us remember umuntu, ngumuntu, ngabantu.

Let us not educate the child to cope with the future. Let us work to educate the child as a hope for the future.



“Education is the help that we must give to life so that it may develop in the greatness of its powers.To help those great forces which bring the child, inert at birth, unintelligent and unsympathetic, to the greatness of the adult being, this should be the plan of education – to see what help we can give”

(Montessori, The 1946 London Lectures, p. 6


– Susanne van Niekerk –