A New Paradigm In Education….Student’s ‘pay’ for their tuition in plastic waste.

Students of Akshar Forum School bring waste plastic to school in place of tuition fees

AKSHAR FORUM SCHOOL is a 100-student ‘model school’ in Assam, India. It’s an experiment in innovative teaching methods and Akshar is implementing their model in a government school in Delhi, with plans to expand to five more next year, and working towards the goal of transforming education in public schools throughout the country.

Students learn about conservation and responsibility for their surrounding and to strive to improve them.  Students pay their “school fees” in the form of clean plastic waste from their homes and communities and participate in the school Recycling Centre while learning environmental science.  Every school will have a Recycling Centre and teens are employed part-time in the campus Recycling Centre, processing non-recyclable, dry, plastic packaging into Eco-bricks. 20-40 plastic bags that would have been dumped in landfill or burned are sequestered into a single plastic bottle, forming a sturdy brick for simple construction projects.

Each of the students at the Akshar Forum school must bring 20 plastic items to school a week in order to attend, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).  Attendance was previously free, but the initiative was started after a request for parents to participate in a recycling programme failed, according to AFP. Parents have also been asked to promise not to burn plastics.

Every school is an Animal Shelter.  Akshar’s campus, students and staff have sheltered and found homes for 20 dogs, including injured and abandoned dogs in the first year of the campus Animal Shelter.  They were vaccinated, dewormed, and cared for until new homes could be found for them. Akshar takes care of all their medical needs, sterilisation and post-op care.  Once again teens can be employed in the Animal Shelter while learning about empathy and basic medical care and if every school implements similar models they can help bring an end to suffering of street animals found everywhere in India.

Student are also being trained in gardening and carpentry, solar tech and soon, irrigation, electronics and lighting.  This training will culminate in the development of the Akshar Landscaping Enterprise.  Students will learn how to operate a profitable business, while enhancing the aesthetics of public spaces in the community, as well as private businesses in the area.

Akshar has introduced Meta-Teaching, which is a system devised to ensure that all children receive the individual support and encouragement they need to learn effectively. Older students learn how to teach the younger students and are employed to do so as teaching assistants.  Meta-teaching benefit adult teachers, teens and younger students and enable more one-on-one time for every child.  Many children lack the home support they need to do well in school.  Akshar ensures every young child gets daily, personal mentoring from an older student, under the guidance of an adult teacher.  Children enjoy spending quality time learning from a teen and teens can often relate to the younger children better than adults.  This gives the adult teachers more time to focus on the teens in their own class and the thinking is that this all beneficial in transforming these teenagers into community leaders over time.  In these communities there’s a great deal of pressure for teenagers to drop out of school and start earning to support their families.  Akshar pays teens to work part-time in school, learning and earning, so families are happy to send them to school.  Student’s wages are based on their academic level and their teaching skill.  Students are incentivised to learn more so they can earn more.  

Akshar is on a mission to reform 100 government schools in 5 years.

All photography by Hrishikesh Medhi