School of the Nations is a Baha’i-inspired international school in Macau, and it was established in response to a need for an educational approach that incorporates both academic and moral education. It opened in 1988 with only five students and seven teachers and it has since grown to nearly 100 teachers and over 600 students, from pre-kindergarten to grade 12.
In January 2019, it was featured on the Baha’i World News Service as it celebrated its 30-year anniversary. I was thrilled to catch up with Mona Manouchehri, who assists with curriculum development at the school, to hear a first-hand account of what it’s like to work at a large Baha’i-inspired school.
Baha’i Blog: Hi Mona, how did you learn about School of the Nations?
I first heard about the school several years ago from the family of an educator who began working here as a curriculum development administrator. I was intrigued by what I had heard about the school and the work that she was doing. I felt that after having worked in the Australian secondary education system for nearly a decade, it was timely for me to try something new and a bit more meaningful. At the time, there were no positions available but several years later I was asked to re-apply and I joined as an Instructional Coach. I gradually moved over to the area of curriculum development and am now working as part of a team in this area.
Baha’i Blog: What is the reputation and impact of the school in Macau?
The school is quite well-known among parents and the greater Macau community not only for its academic excellence, but also its focus on moral development. This is evident in the high interest in enrolment at the school—over 380 children applied for just 46 places in kindergarten this year.
Our students do very well in the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program and many go on to attend top universities in East Asia, Europe, and North America. We are also known for our inclusive and special education program, an area that sadly tends to be overlooked in Asia.
The Education Department of Macau knows our school well and recognizes its contributions to advancing education in Macau, both in terms of an excellent academic program and, more so, for the pioneering work of offering character education—which they continue to identify as critical for Macau’s progress.
Just like any other school, we have achievements to be proud of and considerable distance yet to traverse. Functioning as a Baha’i-inspired school will become gradually defined as we continue to take steps and learn from the efforts of similar endeavors around the world.
Baha’i Blog: You mentioned that School of the Nations is a Baha’i-inspired school. Can you explain to our readers what this means?
What it means for education to be Baha’i-inspired is a process of exploring and discovering.
Shoghi Effendi was asked about this specifically and the response given is illuminating. To quote: “The teachings of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha do not present a definite and detailed educational system, but simply offer certain basic principles and set forth a number of teaching ideals that should guide future Baha’i educationalists in their efforts to formulate an adequate teaching curriculum which would be in full harmony with the spirit of the Baha’i Teachings, and would thus meet the requirements and needs of the modern age.”
Our work in the current stage of the school’s development is focused on exploring ways by which certain capabilities, for example “being a promoter of justice” can find expression within the ever evolving curriculum that is now primarily focused on academics; and what processes can we put in place so that our students begin to identify more practically with the twofold moral purpose—to pursue their own intellectual and spiritual growth and to contribute to the transformation of society.
This aim then becomes much greater than merely providing moral, holistic, or interfaith-based education. We recognize that this is only a small step towards the goal of an integrated Baha’i-inspired curriculum and just like any other Baha’i-inspired institution, we are on a path of learning. The pace at which we progress is greatly dependent on the human resources and the openness of the various stakeholders.
Baha’i Blog: To follow-up more practically, how does being Baha’i-inspired find expression at the school?
Currently, beyond the celebration of the Holy Days and homeroom morning devotions, each grade level has incorporated character development classes as a step towards developing an integrated, Baha’i-inspired curriculum.
At kindergarten and primary levels, teachers use the Hidden Gems and the Mining Gems curricula that were developed here, which are focused around developing capabilities. In middle school, we have introduced a portion of the junior youth empowerment program, which is largely delivered by older students who have received some training. Secondary students are also introduced to elements of the PSA (Preparation for Social Action) material.
Where possible, teachers are being encouraged to look at student learning in terms of developing capabilities which I referred to earlier, not just as acquisition of facts and information but rather developing a set of inter-related attitudes, qualities, understandings, skills and habits.
What I feel is really exciting about this work is that we are continually exploring new grounds of what it means to be Baha’i-inspired in nature, while being comfortable with ambiguity and acknowledging that we have a long way to go.
We realize that in order to be more effective we need to form deeper ties with like-minded groups and initiatives in Macau, including the emerging activities connected with the local Baha’i community.
Baha’i Blog: What are some of the requirements to work at School of the Nations?
We look for educators with demonstrated teaching ability, including both a sound understanding of educational theory and practice as well as an ability to evaluate their approach in light of our school’s framework and vision. Flexibility and a humble posture of learning are crucial. We also highly value the ability to fully engage with the life of our school and contribute to the surrounding community.
For the upcoming academic year, we still have some openings for qualified teachers in Kindergarten, Primary, and Secondary, as well as some specialty positions, including for those with experience serving as an animator for the junior youth empowerment program. We are also looking at expanding the curriculum team and are looking for experienced educators with certain required skills and attributes, who are committed to increasing their understanding of the Baha’i-inspired framework for action.
If anyone feels prompted to work at the school, I always encourage them to apply and see what happens. I did—and haven’t looked back!
Baha’i Blog: Thank you so much, Mona, for giving us first-hand insight about School of the Nations and what your experience has been like working in a Baha’i-inspired international school in Macau. I know a lot of us have been curious to learn more about it, and congratulations on achieving 30 years!
Mona would love to answer any questions, or hear your thoughts and ideas about School of the Nations, or about Baha’i-inspired education in general, in the Comments Section below.