New Okhla Industrial Development Area. That’s how the name goes, but in today’s Noida manufacturing clusters make up a fraction of the city’s 203-sq km landscape.
Starting as an industrial hub in 1976, catering to Delhi’s commercial needs and addressing its concern over polluting industries, this township on the capital’s eastern edge has since transformed into one of India’s best-planned modern cities.
If the 1980s and early 1990s saw an influx of retirees and small businesses, the last 15 years witnessed the city turn into a favoured destination for the upwardly-mobile middle class as global companies and the country’s booming outsourcing industry set up operations here.
The demographic shifts have brought sweeping changes to Noida’s educational landscape.
Among the first schools to be set up in Noida were Apeejay, Cambridge (both in 1981) and Delhi Public School (1982).
Rising realty prices in the 1990s made Delhi residents look for low-cost housing. Noida became a natural choice because of its proximity — and a second wave of schools followed. Among the ones leading the pack were Amity International, Somerville and Vishwa Bharati.
Good teachers, sprawling complexes, and sporting and recreational facilities made these schools stand out.
By the new millennium, residents' expectations had increased — many of them were highly educated, employed in MNCs and willing to spend liberally on their children's education.
Schools such as Lotus Valley, Kothari International and Step By Step, with their air-conditioned classrooms, high-tech infrastructure and, in some cases, an optional international curriculum, stepped in to fill that need.
In the high-end category, the latest entrants include Pathways, Genesis Global and Shriram Millennium.
Back in the eighties, the Noida authority thought of attracting schools by providing free land (Re 1 per sq m for registration formalities). Seeing the area’s potential, schools soon began vying for plots in Noida. The Authority cashed in on the demand and several schemes were started to manage the demand.
Till the ‘90s, “it was easy to get admission in schools such as DPS, Apeejay, Central School, Amity, Ryan International and Cambridge,” said Anup Khanna, general secretary of the District Student Guardians’ Association.
But with the increase in the number of elite schools, “admissions became tougher too”, he added. That may be the case, but Noida’s best schools mirror the aspirations of its wealthier residents.