Twenty-five plastic waste items every week — that’s the target that every student studying in this school in Assam has to meet. After all, these plastic items are what they pay as school fee.
On World Environment Day, here’s the amazing story from Assam.
The Akshar School in Pamohi, Assam, has come up with this simple yet effective strategy to save the environment. The school is the brainchild of wife and husband duo, Parmita Sarma and Mazin Mukhtar.
Parmita and Mazin met in 2013 when Mazin came to Assam from New York to work in a rural school. Along with Parmita, who’s a social work graduate from TISS, he started the school in 2016.
The Akshar school has a 360-degree approach towards education. It’s a mix of academics, vocational training, life skills and value system. And it all revolves around environment in the Akshar school. The first step was to make the nearby community plastic free.
“When we first started, we asked the parents of our students to send their plastic waste from home. They didn’t want to cooperate; they didn’t segregate their waste. It was too much of a hassle. The school, since we started in 2015, has been entirely free. There is no school fee at all. But to compel them to recycle and participate in cleaning up the environment, we told them that from now on, we’ll start charging fees and that fee is the clean plastic waste from their homes.Mazin Mukhtar, Founder, Akshar School
Keep it Green and Get Paid
Now, every student has to bring in 25 plastic waste items every week. These plastic waste is then recycled into eco-bricks. These are made by the students themselves. They keep the environment clean and they get paid to do that.
“So, we started our recycling centre at the campus last year. The purpose of the recycling centre is to employ at-risk teenagers and give them an opportunity to earn some money in school. That way, they don’t have to drop out. They are under enormous pressure from home to drop out and get a job. Even from the age of 12-13 years old.”Mazin Mukhtar, Founder, Akshar School
Learn More, Earn More
In 2016, the school had just 20 students. Today, 110 students attend the Akshar school. They come mostly from poor families, some of them were working in stone quarries to earn a living. So, Parmita and Mazin came up with an innovative program – Learn More, Earn More. The senior students are paid to teach the junior students.
“Now, students are doing match-up where one elder student is paid to tutor a younger student. They receive their worksheets and they work with that student on their unique weaknesses to help them succeed in school, and we’ve developed this new program where we pay the older students to make sure that every young student receives that individual attention they need to succeed in school. The students’ wages are based on how effective they are as teachers and their academic level. So, the more they learn, the more they earn.”Mazin Mukhtar, Founder, Akshar School
Education, environment and employment are the means to empowerment at the Akshar school, a model that has the potential to be replicated across India.