Akshar Forum is a school with various charms: don’t be surprised if you find a line of students waiting outside the school, armed with plastic bags, or if you go to classrooms full of students of all ages – taught by another student.
One would wonder, yet it’s just another day at Akshar Forum, a small school located in the village of Pamohi in Guwahati, India.
Co-founded by Parmita Sharma and Mazin Mukhtar in 2016, Akshar Forum is a school run for underprivileged students with the objective of training students to “earn a living by being accountable to the government”.
Education is far from conventional here – Akshar forum helps students explore their own creativity and define their own boundaries. In keeping with its original thinking, Akshar Forum recently introduced a new policy for its students: students now pay fees in the form of plastic waste!
As the vice president of Akshar, Priyongsu Borthakur said in Homegrown, this idea was born out of the Akshar forum’s recycling program. Six months ago, the school started collecting the dry plastic waste from neighboring households, which allowed the students to collect and separate the plastic waste.
“The idea is to train students to recognize how to live an environmentally friendly life, the entire refresher program is implemented by the students from start to finish,” says Borthakur. They go home and collect plastic waste, separate it at school and reuse it in different ways.
Recently, Akshar replicated this model and applied it to student households. Today, the school only accepts dry plastic waste from students. “I still remember how our classrooms filled up with toxic fumes every time someone in the surrounding areas burned plastic,” Parmita Sarma told India Times.
“Here it was common to burn plastic waste to keep it warm. We wanted to change that and so we started to encourage our students to bring their plastic waste as tuition.”
In the village of Pamohi, many households prefer to send their children to stone quarries rather than schools to earn a few rupees a day. Akshar Forum aspires to change this by encouraging families to pay only with plastic waste.
Akshar seeks to encourage more students to attend school without creating a financial burden for their families. At the same time, it tackles the environmental problems of the small village by ensuring that the simple exercise of recycling plastic household waste generates a sense of environmental awareness among students.
The Akshar forum has always been different – unlike other schools, it does not believe that students should be restricted within a defined curriculum. Instead, they focus on and develop each student’s personal abilities. Here, the students teach each other and education for them is nothing less than a moment of pleasure.
By collecting plastic waste as a school fee from students, Akshar Forum aims not only to make education affordable but also to establish a crossroads between education and sustainability. In the small village of Assam, slowly, changes are happening.