School of the Nations, Macau, receives land grant from government

6 July 2006

TAIPA, Macau — It may seem to a passerby that the plot of land between the Hyatt tennis court and the car park of the Buddhist Temple in Taipa, Macau, is just another vacant lot.

But in the mind of Saba Payman, director of the Baha'i-inspired School of the Nations, he can already see the wide open space as the long awaited extension to the school, with numerous art and science laboratories, a 400-seat auditorium and a gymnasium.

It was this same vision that saw beyond the original five pupils who enrolled in the kindergarten in 1988 to the 220 students currently attending the kindergarten, primary and secondary school, coming from countries all over the world.

In a territory where land is scarce, it is a sign of respect and recognition that this valuable 2,500 square meter plot has been given to the school by the Education Department of Macau, which is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China.

"The government has seen what we have been doing and are trying to do," said Mr. Payman, who was awarded earlier this year by the government with the honorific title "Prestige" for service to Macau. "They see our integrity and our spirit of service and so have been very positive in their attempts to assist us to get land and advance the school."

While most schools in Macau focus on the intellectual aspects of education, the School of the Nations is considered a pioneer in developing the moral and character component of the School curriculum, the Character Development Program. In 1998, for instance, the school's Character Development Program received awards, both locally and internationally, for innovative curriculum development.

Diagram of the new school building.SLIDESHOW
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Diagram of the new school building.

"People choose to come to our school because we put emphasis on the development of the person as a whole," explained Mr. Payman. "Our main concern is for the students to develop the desire and habit of extending themselves beyond their own personal concerns and becoming involved with the needs and problems others face on a daily basis."

The Character Development Program focuses on developing capabilities, and putting what is learned into action. Concepts such as responsibilities and contributions as a family member, unity in diversity, world citizenship, and consultation are taught within the classroom. Skills, attitudes and habits are developed and these are simultaneously put into practice in various acts of service to the wider community.

With time, the aim is that these acts of service become a way of life, according to Mr. Payman. "This attitude of service is not only essential for the development of the individual's potential but is, at the same time, an essential force required for the betterment of society," he said.

In a courtesy visit recently made to Mr. Sou Chio Fai, the Director of Education and Youth Services in Macau, Mr. Sou emphasized that he regarded the Education Department and the School of the Nations as "partners," and that the government of the Macau SAR is committed to supporting the school and that includes substantial financial support for the construction of the multi-million dollar project.

The development of the school has not always been easy, however. "Initially," Mr Payman said, "the fact that the school was Baha'i-inspired was a real challenge. People were somewhat uncomfortable with the idea. Now the school is highly regarded and respected. People are seeing the impact that the school is having on developing the characters of young people."

"The motto for the eleventh graders comes from the Baha'i Writings, "Make me as dust in the pathway of Thy loved ones." A couple of years ago, two graduates, who were not Baha'is came back to do a year of voluntary service at the School. Because they were a part of the [school's] culture, the manner in which they served was fantastic, and people could see this. They were outstanding."

"Public education in Macau is for free," he added. "However, despite the fact that we have limited financial resources and our facilities leave a lot to be desired and despite there being tough competition from other schools, people still continue to pay for their children to attend the School." The School of the Nations is one out of three schools in Macau that charges school fees and yet has filled 90 percent of its student capacity.

"We ultimately hope to become an example of what the Baha'i Faith is striving to do," said Mr. Payman. "We are very much hoping to be seen as a beacon of light in promoting both academic and spiritual education."