A few years ago, for three months at a stretch, either Prashant Mahale or his wife Akshata travelled an hour every weekday from their home in Dombivli to drop their son, Raghuram, now 10, to school in Navi Mumbai. Every day, whoever dropped him off waited outside the school for four hours until he finished.
The Mahales inflicted this punishing routine on themselves because they were soon to move from Dombivli to Vashi. They wanted their son to study at a school in Navi Mumbai but their new flat there was not yet ready for them to move in.
“Dombivli has well-known schools, but in Navi Mumbai the education is holistic, and that is what I wanted for my son,” said 41-year-old Prashant, who works for a leading company in the energy sector. “Schools there have the right balance between academics and sports. My son’s school has a pool, and soon, swimming will be made part of curriculum. Moving home was a small sacrifice for the kind of education and facilities my child now has access to.”
Among the hills and lakes of Navi Mumbai, an education hub is burgeoning, one that is attracting parents from all over, especially young people who are moving to the city for the first time.
Established institutions like Delhi Public School and Podar Education Society have started campuses in Navi Mumbai. Of the 42 schools affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education, or CBSE, in the Mumbai metropolitan region, 20 are located in Navi Mumbai.
“A lot of professionals are moving there, so there is a demand for good schools in the region,” said Avnita Bir, secretary of Sahodaya, a platform for CBSE schools.
“Also, land is cheaper and more easily available than in Mumbai so a school can offer a wide variety of facilities that the mainland can’t,” she said. “School bus services are more organised and admissions are easy and hassle-free.”
Nestled among the hills of Nerul is a branch of the Delhi Public School, which decided to set up its only campus in the Mumbai metropolitan area in Navi Mumbai. The ten-year-old school has facilities like horse riding and sports camps as well as a low student-teacher ratio of 20 to 1, much lower than the vast majority of city schools.
“In the past five years, four schools have come up around the corner, and still there is a demand for more,” said Sravani Rao, vice principal of Delhi Public School. “Along with schools, other facilities like theatres, malls and restaurants are making Navi Mumbai self-sufficient.”
Even international schools have now realised the region’s potential and are setting up schools there. The Podar International School started up a year ago and it is already full.
“Navi Mumbai has a lot of Indians who have returned from abroad and are looking for quality education for their children,” said Kavita Kalra, the principal. “The international board gives them the option of going back as their children will be at par with the education standards there.”
This school has its own ground and sporting facilities and plans to build a swimming pool. In contrast, the Podar Education Society’s several schools in Santacruz all use just one sports complex.
But do all thee facilities, such as swimming pools and horse riding, eat into a parent’s pocket? “Not at all,” said Kalra. “The schools here are half the price of comparable ones in Mumbai. Even our international school is cheaper than the ones in Mumbai.”
So are top-of-the-line CBSE and ICSE schools, whose fees are less than Rs 40,000 a year, an informal survey by HT found.