-- Fresh out of college and newly married, Jagdish Gandhi knew some 42 years
ago that his main goal in life was to serve humanity. And he felt educating children would be a good
way to do that.
So he borrowed 300 rupees (the equivalent of less than $10), rented a couple of rooms, and founded
City Montessori School in this historic provincial capital in northern India. The school's first
class consisted of five students.
Little did Mr. Gandhi imagine that it would one day become the largest private school in the world --
or that it would also become widely known for its distinctive emphasis on teaching students the value
of world citizenship and religious tolerance.
"There are hundreds of other well-established schools here," said Mr. Gandhi, 66, who founded with his
wife Bharti Gandhi in 1959. "So we never realized we were going to be the biggest school in the world
-- or that we would be so focused on imparting educational globalism."
With an enrolment of 22,612 students in 1999, CMS, as the school is commonly known, won a place in the
year 2000 Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest school by enrollment. It now has over
25,000 students, in grade levels ranging from pre-primary to college.
According to parents and faculty here, the high enrollment statistic is not a fluke or the anomalous
reflection of something like exceedingly low tuition fees or a high achieving sports team. Rather,
they said, CMS has been supremely successful at attracting students largely for two reasons: 1) its
reputation for academic excellence, and, 2) its distinctive program of moral education.
In terms of academics, CMS students consistently earn top rankings in government examinations and
places in prestigious colleges and universities throughout India. For the year 2000-2001 school year,
for example, out of 1,192 CMS students taking the national standardized Indian school certificate
examination, 1,179 passed and 1,099 of those passed in the "first division," with aggregate marks over
60 percent, which is considered to be "honors." Some 79 students secured 90 percent marks and above.
Beyond academics, however, parents also say they also choose to send their children to CMS because of
its singular effort to provide students with the intellectual, moral and spiritual tools for success
in an increasingly globalized world -- a world in which the ability to get along in harmony with
people from all religions, ethnic groups and nationalities will be of supreme importance.
"Exposure to globalism"
The school's emphasis on this mission is clearly apparent. Its prospectus advertises "international
interaction and exposure to globalism," while banners and posters at CMS's various school buildings
proclaim slogans like: "Every child is potentially the light of the world." Other banners emphasize
principles of interfaith harmony and acceptance.
"Why do so many parents send their children here? The reason, I feel, is that parents want their
children to be good," said Mr. Gandhi. "Yes, they want them to have a good education. They want good
results. And we give that. But they also want them to have good morals. And we strive to give that,
"Parents also know that their children will be exposed to an international atmosphere," Mr. Gandhi
added, noting that one distinct feature of the school is its hosting of various international
conferences, on topics ranging from music and culture to computers and robotics, which bring many
visitors from overseas.
"The children here are inhaling a vision -- a vision of globalism," continued Mr. Gandhi. "So that
they can take up a position where they can change the world. I want our graduates to be
self-motivating agents of social change, serving the best interests of the community and the world as
Technically speaking, CMS is not so much a school as a school district, with some 20 branches spread
throughout Lucknow. Each branch is a small, self-contained campus, usually with a main school
building and several auxiliary structures. On the average, each branch hosts about 1,250 students.
Some of its campuses were built specifically for CMS, and itís the schoolís infrastructure is
among the most modern of the many private schools in Lucknow, if not India. Further, in their quality
of construction and overall design and layout, the many campuses here might more accurately be
compared to those of a small college or university rather than a combined elementary and secondary
The curriculum covers all the traditional subjects required by students to pass India's state
examinations, but with an additional emphasis on moral education. And at CMS, moral education is very
much equated with the concept of world citizenship and interreligious harmony.
The source of moral values
The moral values promoted at CMS are drawn directly from the teachings of the Baha'i Faith. In their
early life together, Mr. and Mrs. Gandhi were greatly influenced by the humanitarian ideas of Mahatma
Gandhi -- an influence that, in part, led Mr. Gandhi to found CMS. In 1974, both Mr. and Mrs. Gandhi
became Baha'is. Since that time they have increasingly introduced the Faith's spiritual and social
principles into the moral and spiritual curriculum at CMS.
This is not to say, however, that the school imposes the Baha'i Faith on its students. Indeed, if
anything, the school seeks to uphold the values taught by all religions and to respect the beliefs of
all students and their parents, who reflect the diversity of Lucknow itself, which is composed of
roughly 70 percent Hindus, 25 percent Moslems, and 5 percent Christians and Sikhs.
"We respect every religion in our schools," said Bonita Joel, principal at CMS's Indira Nagar branch,
who is herself a Christian. "No one religion is taught in our school. It is a secular school. But we
teach our children to respect every religion."
Ms. Joel and others at CMS see this emphasis on religious pluralism as strongly linked to the school's
emphasis on globalism.
"We basically believe -- the school professes -- to break down narrow domestic walls and to reach out
to other nations and cultures," said Ms. Joel. "We feel with globalization taking place, the students
can no longer be confined in their thinking to just their neighborhood or culture or their nations.
They must reach out to the broader world."
Ms. Sadhna Chooramani, the principal of the CMS Chowk branch, believes that emphasis on globalism and
religious tolerance very much helps to prepare its students for success in the modern world.
"Our students have no inhibitions about going out and working with others, whatever their religion or
background," said Ms. Chooramani, who is 38 and a Hindu. "They accept people as they are. The feeling
of being one with the human race is deep-rooted."
Ms. Chooramani believes that CMS's long-standing promotion of tolerance and oneness has contributed to
the overall sense of communal harmony in Lucknow. In 1992, when riots broke out in many urban centres
after fundamentalists destroyed the Babri Mosque in the city of Ayodhya, Lucknow escaped serious
disturbances and it is widely acknowledged as a peaceful city.
With such a large student body, and its high level of parental involvement, CMS is almost certainly a
contributor to that sense of harmony in Lucknow, Ms. Chooramani said.
"The people of Lucknow have started feeling that this concept of oneness of mankind is the only way by
which we can have progress toward harmony and peace and a better way of living," she said.
Ms. Chooramani organized a neighborhood meeting in 1992 during the Ayodhya crisis and made an appeal
for calm. "I said that there is no religion that teaches this kind of violence," she said.
Other branches of CMS likewise held similar meetings or activities during that period, and the school
as a whole organized a general peace march. "We had hundreds of children marching, with a banner
saying 'God is one and all mankind is one,' " said Mrs. Bharti Gandhi, who serves as the Director of
the CMS system. "And at that time, there were no casualties in Lucknow, even though in other places
Hindus were killing Muslims and Muslims were killing Hindus."
The school seeks to reinforce its ideal of internationalism not only through its curriculum but, as
noted by Mr. Gandhi, by sponsoring various international conferences. On several of its larger
campuses, hostel-type dormitories and food service facilities make hosting such events possible at a
relatively low cost.
Each year now, the school hosts a variety of international events, including "Macfair International,"
a mathematics and computer fair; "Celesta International," an international music and culture
festival; the "International Astronomy Olympiad"; a "Science Olympiad" on math, computers and
robotics; an "International School-to-School Experience Exchange"; and a "Children's International
Summer Village Camp." In 2000, CMS organized and/or hosted nine such events, and 11 were scheduled in
The school also strives for educational innovation. It has adopted various management practices, such
as Quality Circles, that encourage the generation and refinement of new ideas. It also has its own
"innovation wing," a 25- employee unit dedicated entirely to researching, developing, and bringing
into the CMS system new teaching methods. In that effort, the researchers draw on ideas both from
around India and abroad.
For their part, parents are pleased with the direction the school has taken. The school's enrolment
continues to climb, reaching 25,172 this year.
"There are a number of schools that give a good education, but this one goes beyond, giving all of the
best features: personal development, good academics, and moral values," said Manoj Agrawal, a
35-year-old electrical engineer, who has two children at CMS.
"They bring out the best in the child," added Deepa Agrawal, his wife. "They are given opportunities
and the right encouragement."
The Agrawals and other parents also praised the school's emphasis on strong relations between parents
and teachers. Teachers are required to make periodic home visits and parents are invited to regular
functions at the school. "It develops kind of rapport between the teacher and the parent," said Mrs.
Om Prakesh Patel, a 32-year-old landowner and farmer from the Kaimur District some 390 kilometers away
in Bihar State, felt so strongly about enrolling his son in CMS that he moved in with his wife's
parents here in Lucknow -- something that goes completely against tradition.
He and his wife, Sunita, decided on CMS because of its academic reputation, the high level of
parent-teacher interaction, and its emphasis on moral education.
"The moral emphasis is a plus point," said Mr. Patel, whose nine-year-old son Harsh has been attending
CMS for five years. "We are a secular country and communalism is rising in India. So we feel we need
a more religiously tolerant society. And moral ethics in this materialistic age are very important."
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