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The biggest school in the world

Parents can often worry about the size of a school and whether their child will get lost or overlooked at a bigger institution. Spare a thought for those attending the City Montessori School in Lucknow, India, the largest school in the world…

At most schools, all the students and teachers manage to convene a few times a year, perhaps for a Speech Day or a special assembly of some sort.  At City Montessori School in India that’s just not possible, however.  With 52,000 pupils, there simply isn’t a hall or sports field big enough.

CMS, as the school is known, was opened by Jagdish Gandhi and his wife Bharti in 1959 with a loan of 300 rupees and just five pupils.  The school has expanded ten-thousand-fold over 56 years, and its rapid growth saw it officially recognised by the 2013 Guinness Book of Records as the world's largest.

Today CMS sprawls over 20 sites in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh state, and educates children aged between 5 and 17 in classes of about 45 pupils.  Impressively, the school is as famous for its exam results and international exchange programmes as it is for its scale. In India’s equivalent of A-levels, a whopping 40% of the school score 90% or higher, making it one of the top colleges in the country.

"The phenomenal growth of our school is a reflection of our efforts to please our parents with our service to their children," says Gandhi, who is still involved in the school's management at the age of 79.  In the past 56 years Dr Gandhi has not taken a single day off and he works with undiminished zeal.

The size of CMS is matched only by its idealistic ambitions, with pupils taught a philosophy of universal peace and globalism under the motto "Jai Jagat" (Victory be to the World). In fact, CMS is the only school in the world to have been awarded a UNESCO Prize for Peace Education for its efforts in this field.

From a practical point of view, such a large school needs a huge amount of administration and maintenance. At one campus with 7,500 pupils, for example, the first children start streaming in at 7:15 in the morning and an hour later they’re still arriving.  There are 3,800 staff at CMS, including teachers, support staff, cleaners, and rickshaw drivers, as well as electricians, carpenters and gardeners.  And, thanks to the school’s academic success, there’s even a whole department dedicated to writing congratulatory letters.

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