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Committed to Building Peace: The City Montessori School in India

Priti Barman

It was 23 September 2002. History was being written in the glittering hall of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris. For the first time in the award's long history, a school was being awarded the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education. The recipient was India's City Montessori School, the world's largest private school.

Located in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, City Montessori School, popularly known as CMS, has been making pioneering efforts in the field of education ever since its founding over four decades ago. The school provides education from the preschool level through secondary school. Not only does CMS embrace as its ambitious primary objective the task of "equipping children with spiritual, moral, and material knowledge," but also developing "the capacities latent in human nature and [coordinating] their expression for the enrichment and progress of society." It does that by integrating countless outward-looking activities into its program. Perhaps unique in the world, CMS has a full-fledged World Unity and Peace Education Department. The CMS philosophy revolves around the "twin poles" of globalism and godliness, and the school's mission is to promote world unity and peace by shaping future generations as "world citizens" whose minds have the virtues of unity and peace impressed upon them from day one. CMS seeks to send students into the world with a commitment to make it a better place for all, and with the moral and spiritual strength necessary to realize that commitment.

CMS is unique in another way-with over 29,000 students, it can boast of the largest enrollment of any city-based private school in the world, a fact duly noted in the Guinness Book of World Records. The beginnings of course were considerably more humble. Established in 1959 on a borrowed capital of 300 rupees (about US$10 at the time) by Jagdish Gandhi and his wife Bharti Gandhi, CMS started off with just five students. Staunch followers of Mahatma Gandhi, the couple was deeply committed to the ideals of world unity and peace and firmly believed education was key. The institution thus took on the charge of educating young, impressionable minds and producing a new generation of "world citizens." Indeed, for its motto, CMS adopted the words of Mahatma Gandhi, Jai Jagat ("Glory be to the world"), which has served for many years as the greeting call of all staff members and students.

"A school must act as a lighthouse to society; providing direction, guidance and leadership to students, parents, and society and also concern itself with the affairs of the age" is one of the core beliefs of CMS. The school also believes that true education releases capacities; develops analytical abilities, self-confidence, will power, and goal-setting competencies; and instills the vision that enables one to become a self-motivated agent of social change serving the interests of the community. So CMS strives to provide its students with a spiritual outlook and a global vision. CMS students are prepared not just for exams but for life itself-to become conscious and contributing members of society, proactive agents of change, promoters of peace, and upholders of high moral values.