How a 70-year-old woman is making education affordable for children in Pune
When Sunita Jeevan Kulkarni started the Valley View High School to provide quality education for underprivileged kids, she had just eight students. Today, the school has a strength of around 1,500.
“Irrespective of race, creed, and gender, education makes it possible for people to stand out as equal with all the other persons from different walks of life.”
Meet 70-year-old Sunita Jeevan Kulkarni, who is doing everything in her power to exemplify this. After working in the field of education for over 25 years, she and her husband set up a school to provide quality education for underprivileged and differently-abled students.
The Valley View High School, situated in the Kondhwa region of Pune, was started with just eight students in 1996. Today, the strength of the school stands at around 1,500, out of whom 900 are boys and 600 are girls.
“Many kids in India do not get to study owing to their poor financial backgrounds. According to an estimate, out of the 200 million children between six and 14 years of age, around 59 million do not attend school. I really wanted to change this scenario. I figured that the best way to do that was to make education affordable,” Sunita, Founder and President, Valley View High School, tells SocialStory.
While she had to overcome multiple obstacles on her journey, she stuck to her goals and did not give up.
The initial days
Teaching has been the cornerstone of Sunita’s career since the very beginning. After working at Pune’s Bishop School for many years, she decided to go the entrepreneurial way.
Since Sunita belonged to a middle-class background, gathering the funds needed for the school seemed like a herculean task.
“The only option I had was to sell my flat and I did exactly that. It was a tough decision to give up the only property we possessed. Nevertheless, I knew that it would yield great results,” Sunita recalls.
Immediately after, the couple purchased a 500-sq-ft plot and built two classrooms. And, over the years, the now 70-year-old Sunita kept the fire burning with grit and hard work. At present, the school has 26 classrooms, a library, two A/V rooms, and a computer and science lab.
As word spread around, more children started enrolling at Valley View High School to pursue their education.
Most of the population of Kondhwa are daily wage and contract workers, who do not have access to a regular income.
Hence, several children in the area do not really receive a formal education. Even the ones who get inducted into government schools, had a tendency to drop out midway.
“Education is definitely one of the most powerful tools that can empower people. So, the idea behind expanding Valley View High School was to offer a platform with learning opportunities at a very reasonable cost for the underprivileged and marginalised. This would help them break away from the cycle of poverty,” notes Sunita.
Empowering through education
Valley View High School follows the state curriculum and admits students from nursery to class 10. At the time of admission, income and occupation details of the parents are verified so as to ensure that the needy are prioritised.
“A nominal monthly fee of around Rs 500 to 600 is charged for every student since making education accessible and affordable is our motto. The overall cost to run the school is anywhere between Rs 1.5 to 2 crore. Most of the times, this fund is not sufficient for day-to-day operations. Hence, we also turn towards CSR initiatives and other individual donors. Anandamoy Roychowdhary [Director Technology at Sequoia Capital] has been backing the school for a long time now,” explains Sunita.
It has been 25 years since the government-recognised school started. A few months ago, Sunita decided to hand over the baton to her son Nilesh Kulkarni.
“My mother’s vision was to deliver education to the underserved. I am grateful and happy to be a part of it. To provide the best facilities to all the kids and make sure they are on par with the others, we have incorporated curriculums focussed on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and experiential learning. Besides this, the school administration gives a lot of importance to sports, robotics, and co-curricular activities,” Nilesh says.
The school and its staff of 70 (including teaching and administrative members) also organise multiple exposure visits, especially in the field of sports.
To encourage the children to take interest in physical training, Valley View High School lays down opportunities for them to experience Pro Kabaddi, International Cricket One Day, Test matches, IPL Cricket matches, and even ISL football league matches.
Sunita has been at the forefront of educating some of the most deprived sections of the society for the last 25 years. And she has some big plans for the future too.
“Over the years, we have never let the inability of parents to fund their children’s education, come in the way of their development, career, and life. COVID-19 has changed a lot of things for us. On average, 100 kids drop out of the school every year. The migrant crisis is leading to an increase in this trend. But, we are in the process of delivering all the lessons online and also obtaining sponsorships for devices, such as laptops.
Sunita is hopeful of tiding over this phase and also expand curriculums as well as infrastructure to cater to class 11 and 12 students in the coming months.
Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta