Interfaith is a subject that has to be taught very young, and doing a yeoman service is the City Montessori School, (CMS), Lucknow. Here a typical day starts with an assembly during which the children first sing and pray one God, irrespective of their religious faith. Extracts of Holy Scriptures from all religions are read and explained during the assembly.
This spiritual time is followed by an interactive discussion between the children and their Principal or teachers about the ‘Virtue of the Month’ and the various ways to implement it on a daily basis.
For each month of the year, one virtue is picked up by a ‘Board of Virtues’. Friendliness, Justice and Truth are some examples. The ‘Virtue of the Month’ is written on the black board of the classrooms.
‘It is at as early as six or seven a child should be introduced to moral values, virtues, cultural and inter-faith diversity. The children understand many things, but are often prêt to outside influences’, says Archanaa Pande, Principal of the Asharfabad Campus.
In case the family environment cannot give such constructive social education, it is the role of the school to impart some positive influences, she explains.
The day at CMS witnesses a succession of courses with an impressive level of enthusiasm and discipline from the pupils as well as interaction with the teachers.
The school develops team spirit and ability to hold responsibilities by gathering the children in four different Houses – Hope, Love, Peace and Unity, mixing classes and ages. These Houses have tasks to fulfill and targets to match in various fields all the year round.
Similarly, as an introduction of each school happening, an all religion prayer is performed by the children wearing traditional costumes of others’ religion to generate awareness, reverence and unity.
Deepa Tiwari, Principal of CMS Rajendra Nagar -I campus, says extracurricular activities encourage the children to be creative and to remain in a constant learning mode. It goes from a Book Fair Exhibition with books written by the children, to cultural dance performances, plays, seminars, competitions, and religious festivals, she says.
CMS also familiarizes the children with Indian and international personalities who contributed to the social growth and progress of the world so that they can become a real source of inspiration.
Each year, CMS organizes a series of activities to celebrate the World Interfaith Harmony Week. Each day comes with an event that encourages not only the pupils but also their parents to share and engage with others. There is a time for shared meals, exchange of cards between the children, singing, dance and quiz competitions involving the parents.
With the same purpose, Dr. Jagdish Gandhi, the founder of CMS has invented a concept of world Parliament for children where they become world leaders and discuss about the issues faced on the international stage. This exercise incites the children to find solutions and take collective action for the welfare of the humanity.
‘CMS does not content itself to provide a high-rate education, it feels entrusted with a much broader responsibility vis-à-vis the children. The school aims at helping the children to become vectors of social change for a better world’, Mr. Gandhi says.
‘CMS teaches why and how to respect others in their differences since ultimately ‘God is one, Religion is one, and Mankind is one,’ he adds.
‘A good teacher is like a candle, it consumes itself to light the way of others’. These were the words written at the gates of the Asharfabad and Rajendra Nagar-I, Campuses of the City Montessori School in Lucknow, says Muriel Potherat, Project Manager of a Delhi-based NGO promoting interfaith harmony and called Faith Matters, who attended an International Conference on Promoting Interfaith Harmony organized by CMS’s Asharfabad Campus in July 2012 and was later there for a three-day training and observation programme.
This eye-catching quote is one among many others promoting a spiritual education, human virtues as well as oneness of God and mankind. It is even more mesmerizing to realize that these words do not only hang beautifully on the walls of CMS, they are mirrored in the daily schedule of the children, says Muriel, who works with students at enhancing interaction and respect between faith communities.
When I saw many performances of the children showcasing an inspiring model of interfaith harmony, I realized that as a child I never had such an experience during my school days, the social worker, who hails from France, said.
A child is both a hope and a promise for mankind and I can affirm with much admiration that CMS gives more than full justice to these words. I could figure out how much level of expertise CMS has developed in this field as it equips the children with the required means to overcome the continuous challenges of life and make a difference in the world. It’s not mere education, rather a way of life. And each one at CMS believes in it with humility and conviction, concluded Muriel.
As Indians if we like to pursue the philosophy of unity in diversity and relish the idea that our country never faces the scourge of communal riots, then City Montessori School, Lucknow is a role model for such nation building. It would be a beautiful dream to see each school of the country trying the CMS model of interfaith harmony and prepare the tiny tots how to live in peace and harmony.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org