By Amlan Jyoti Saikia
This is a story of a unique school in Pamohi, Assam, where students bring polythene bags full of plastic waste as the only form of fee that the school accepts.
Unbelievable as it may sound, the Akshar School in Guwahati accepts plastic wastes as school fees, with a pledge to not burn plastic.
The students of the school don’t come only with bags full of books but they also bring plastics full of polythene as school fees. The students of the school deposits 10-20 plastic items per week as fees.
Parmita Sarma and Mazin Mukhtar wanted to start a school for children in Pamohi but they realized a larger social and ecological problem brewing in the area. They wanted to change it and therefore, they started encouraging students to bring their plastic waste as school fees, and this was the beginning of Akshar School.
The Akshar School was founded in June 2016, which has been giving formal education to more than 100 children belonging to an economically backward category.
Notably, the school has designed the curriculum fundamentally for poverty-stricken children. Not only do they teach children lessons on traditional subjects also provide vocational skill training so that they can become skilled professionals by the end of the course.
When Mazin Mukhtar came to India from New York earlier in 2013, he got in touch with Parmita – the then Social Work student of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and wanted to work in the education sector. The school also provides vocational skill training besides regular subjects of Science, Geography, Mathematics, etc.
Akshar does not have an age-specific admission system. The students attend the same classes together at Akshar while sitting in open spaces.
The school also aims to educate the community about the harmful effects of burning plastic with the help of the students. The students also make numerous construction materials with plastic waste with the help of the teachers.
Initially, the school had only 20 kids but now it has more than 100 children studying in the school. It has eight bamboo huts for classroom and two digital classrooms donated by well-wishers.
Both Mazin and Parmita got married in 2018. Duo now aspiring to establish 100 such schools across the country in the next five years.
Besides mainstream education, the school curriculum has various courses like cosmetology, embroidery, singing, dancing, organic farming, gardening, solar panelling, recycling and electronics etc.
By addressing education and employment together, blending academics with vocational training, we can ensure our graduates secure gainful livelihoods and contribute to the development of their own communities.