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The world’s largest school

52,000 students and 1,050 classrooms: inside the world’s largest school

Welcome to City Montessori school in Lucknow, India. Despite its vast size, no child is left behind, with nearly half of pupils scoring 90% or more in national tests

At 7:15am in the northern Indian city of Lucknow, a stream of children flows through the gates of the Kanpur Road campus of City Montessori school. A dozen helpers pull school bags off roof racks and direct traffic to keep things moving.

It’s not easy to get more than 7,500 five- to 17-year-old students into a single school building, but that’s only a small piece of the puzzle for City Montessori (or CMS) – recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest school. The institution caters to some 52,000 pre-primary, primary and secondary students distributed across 20 campuses in the city.

Almost all of the school’s 1,050 classrooms are full to bursting, with more than 45 students to a class. But parents won’t take no for an answer.

CMS, founded in 1959 by Jagdish Gandhi and his wife, Bharti, who has a doctorate in child psychology, is so popular because of its track record. In India’s equivalent of A-levels, a whopping 40% of the school score 90% or higher, making it one of the top colleges. The class average is above 80%. CMS has demonstrated that large campuses and crowded classrooms aren’t a bar to academic excellence.

Despite its huge size, CMS is not a school for the masses. Though it’s as much as 25% cheaper than some other elite schools in Lucknow. This gives CMS all the classic advantages of an elite private school. There aren’t double-shifts or staggered classes (except at the pre-primary level) – just a lot of resources.

Ajay Madan, who teaches chemistry and conducts a remedial session after school, finds it inspiring that CMS challenges him to be innovative with the curriculum, presenting the lesson using multimedia, for example.

  1. There’s a whole department for writing congratulatory letters

“They teach and also evaluate teachers, making sure no child is lagging behind.”To deal with larger class sizes, teachers have assistants or “notebook checkers”, who have bachelor of education degrees but lack higher qualifications. They help with grading, but also assist in monitoring students and answering questions during class time.

  1. Teaching of the three R’s is important. But we should not lose sight of the fact that man is also a human being

There is a festival atmosphere at school functions, which open with a song-and-dance performance called “the unity prayer” where students dressed as Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists etc extol the virtues of tolerance. Three times a year the mother of a student who has come first in class is called on stage and to sit on a giant balance beam to be “weighed in fruits” that then become her grand prize.

Jagdish Gandhi remains steadfast in his ambition to “change the world” through his school. He insists his mission goes beyond academic success.

“Teaching of the three R’s is important. But at the same time we should not lose sight of the fact that man is also a human being, and that there is also a soul within him.”



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