With the growing plastic pollution, we all feel the urgent need for eradicating the plastic from the environment. We talk about educating people and future generation about efficient utilization of plastic, avoiding single-use plastic and not to fling plastic and its proper disposal.
While we indulge in just blabbering about it, a school from Assam has derived a best and most unique way to teach their students and their families “How to deal with plastics”. They charge fees from their students in the form of bags full of waste plastic on a daily basis.
The School that charges clean environment as fees
Yes, it is exactly like it sounds and this is not a trigger statement. Akshar, a school from the beautiful woods of Pamohi near Assam’s Dispur does not charge any monetary fees from their students for imparting education. Instead, they ask their students to bring bags full of waste plastics like bottles, wrappers, packaging etc as fees, daily.
Who started it and How?
The school is run by Parmita Sarma, along with her husband Mazin Mukhtar who co-founded the school in 2016. Parmita holds a Masters in Social Work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). Mukhtar used to work in New York in the field of technology. In 2013, he came to India on a different school project. During his assignment, he came across Parmita. Parmita, during those days, was also planning to get into the field of education. Both of them connected on this ground.
Parmita is from Assam only, so she knew the whereabouts of the state, it’s landscapes, the challenges and other relevant statistics. As a result, they established Akshar in 2016, a school which was aimed at bridging the gap between conventional methods of education and vocational training.
Initially, they faced many problems as the students would not come to the school because the area was backward and the young children used to work in stone quarries to make their living. They had to make an education system which would fulfil the needs of these families and build a creative pipeline of employment, post-education.
The children used to make around Rs. 150 to 200 per day by working on the stone quarries. So they worked on a peer-to-peer model where senior students would teach junior ones and they would get paid in toy currencies for the same. This currency could be used to buy things. The school also provided them with a facility of exchanging toy notes with actual value money to buy online stuff.
Students who are environmental warriors.
When the school got started, the founders got to learn about the problem of plastic pollution in the area. They learned that people in the village burned their plastic waste to keep warm in their houses. This was very shocking for them as plastic generates poisonous fumes which are hazardous for human health as well as the environment.
“We wanted to start a free school for all, but stumbled upon this idea of charging plastic as fees after we realised a larger social and ecological problem brewing in this area. Our classrooms got filled with toxic fumes every time anyone in nearby areas burnt plastics. We wanted to change that and so started encouraging our students to bring their plastic waste as school fees,” said Parmita.
The school focused on educating the community about health hazards through their students. The parents of the students studying in the school have to pledge to stop the practice of burning plastic and spreading plastic pollution. Students are given skill training on how to make construction material using plastic waste. Plastic bottles are filled tightly with plastic bags to make plastic bricks. These bricks are used to construct further infrastructure in the school. Also, the students get paid for making these bricks.
They have also focused on bringing awareness in the local area. They collect waste from the village and recycle it, thus, asking for active participation from the people in this regard. Many shopkeepers, families and other localities have extended their support. They have also put up signboards in front of their houses and shops to spread awareness.
What makes Akshar’s Education Different
Parmita and Mazin began Akshar to create a curriculum to enhance students’ aspirations and enabling them and their families to build a better tomorrow. Akshar is different from traditional schools are not age-specific. They do not have grading or standards system. Rather the students are separately taught based on their knowledge level. The students of different age groups study under the same roof at the same time under bamboo roofs.
Further, after realizing the need to enhance the curriculum from environmentally focused agenda to overall development of the pupil, the school introduced various types of vocational training courses in their schools where the students are made ready for various job opportunities. Students are given singing, dancing, solar panelling, embroidery, cosmetology, carpentry, gardening, organic farming, electronics, recycling, etc training which is designed as per industry needs and student’s preferences.
Akshar and India’s Future
Initially, Akshar was started with 20 kids and has now grown to over 100 kids. These students come from ages between 4 to 15 years and are studying to change the future of the community. Almost every student brings 20-25 items of plastic waste per week and contributes to their community and the environment.
Mazin and Parmita got married to each other in 2018 and now aspire to make Akshar a national level agenda. They aim to establish 100 such schools in the next five years pan India.