Education begins outside school and learning beyond a classroom. This practice has been well adopted in Rishi Valmiki Eco School (RVES), Goregaon (west), which serves to support children who cannot afford mainstream education in budget schools. This school provides them a platform to learn and complete basic education from Nursery to Standard 10, all while taking them beyond the confines of their classroom by interacting with wildlife and the environment.
In its first batch of Standard 10, Kasim Ansari, Pralhad Pawar and Juhi Yadav have topped the school by securing high percentage in the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) board examination results this year. Ansari, who scored 82 per cent, said, "My father is a tailor and cannot afford to fund my education in a budget school. I secured admission in RVES in Standard 2. Since then, I have developed a thirst for learning. I would attend school for six hours every day and then sit for revision classes in the afternoon conducted by my teachers."
Ansari, who migrated to Mumbai from Jharkhand, said he never thought a school could be so interesting and supportive. Ansari said, "We have separate classes on wildlife subjects and nature studies every day apart from the usual state board syllabus. I study about birds, trees, animals and water bodies every day. I take my friends on nature walks and explain to them unique features of the flora and fauna. I want to become an Indian Forest Service officer and work towards forest conservation."
Juhi Yadav, who scored 80 per cent, said, "I came from a remote village in Uttar Pradesh to Mumbai when I was in Standard 7, not knowing how to speak a single word in English or understand the language. But today, I can speak, read and write in English. I have learned Marathi too. I studied hard for my Standard 10 board exams, because it was my only chance to secure admission in a decent college and pursue a good course. My parents come from a financially weak background, so I knew I had to perform well."
My school has helped me to look at nature from a different perspective, Juhi said. She added, "I have started to appreciate and care for the environment because my teachers taught me life skills and values. I want to become a doctor and serve the community at large by catering to their needs."
Started in 2010, this school began functioning out of four classrooms in a municipal school at Motilal Nagar, Goregaon (west). Nikita Pimple, principal of the school, said, "My parents were into education and social work. We started this school out of just four classrooms. Today, we have 567 students from Nursery to Standard 10 managed by an enthusiastic team of 45 people, including teachers, faculty and administration staff. We are also renting two more rooms nearby to cater to the increasing number of students."
The school teaches wildlife subjects, nature studies, environment conservation, life skills and scientific concepts through activity based learning. Pimple explained. "We want students to think beyond academics and learn about everything that is around them. We have separate exams on wildlife subjects and nature studies. It is not about scoring marks, but about understanding concepts and applying what they learn to serve the community at large."
Students enrolled in Rishi Valmiki Eco School come from the marginalised sections of society with a lack of financial resources. Pimple said, "Most of the kids live in slum settlements and cannot afford to pay fees of budget schools. We are supporting every student with the funds donated by well wishers. These funds are used to provide study materials, maintain classroom infrastructure and support students at every step. Our teachers are working at minimum salaries with an aim of helping students for a greater cause. There is a dire need of funds because there are many more children who need help and support."