At This Indian School Students Pay Their Tuition in Plastic Garbage

The students pay weekly with a grocery bag filled with 25 pieces of plastic waste.

Jun 17, 2019

An innovative School in India has a very unique way of collecting tuition from its students. Instead of collecting cash, the students pay with plastic; plastic bottles not credit cards.

Every week, the students of the Akshar School line up in front of the school with bags filled with clean plastic waste – bottles,  straws, and wrappings – that they find in their homes or community. The plastic waste is recycled in the schools recycling center.

“We wanted to start a free school for all but stumbled upon this idea after we realized a larger social and ecological problem brewing in this area. I still remember how our classrooms would be filled with toxic fumes every time someone in the nearby areas would burn plastics. Here it was a norm to burn waste plastic to keep warm. We wanted to change that and so started to encourage our students to bring their plastic waste as school fees,” Parmita Sarma cofounder of the school told The Better India.

The school was founded in 2016 by Sarma and Mazin Mukhtar in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, a remote and impoverished area adjacent to the Himalayas. Sarma and Mukhtar who married in 2018, envisioned the school as a place that could be a cross between conventional academics and vocational training.

"We realized that education had to be socially, economically, and environmentally relevant for these children. One of the first challenges was to convince the local villagers to send their kids to school, as most of them would work as laborers in the nearby stone quarries. So, among other things, we had to design a curriculum that would fit their needs and build a creative pipeline of employment, post-education,” said Mukhtar.

The curriculum contains a large variety of vocational training, including music, dance, sewing, landscaping, organic farming, recycling, solar panel installation, and electronics. It is tailored to the industrial needs of the community and the students' interests.

Akshar it is far from a typical school in more ways than just the curriculum. The students attend classes in open spaces covered with bamboo roofs, and the classes are not age-specific like in a conventional school. Instead, "we have levels where various age groups study the same thing all at the same time," said Sarma.

In fact, every student is also a teacher, and older students are employed to teach younger children. The teenage students gain work experience and a good work ethic, and they earn enough money to be able to stay in school and not have to go to work in the quarries according to the foundation. The goal is to keep educating students until they go on for higher education, have employment in a job, or become an apprentice.

The school has a strong focus on environmental issues, and the community is behind the recycling efforts. Older students can also work part-time jobs at the recycling center as an additional source of income for their families. One of the foundations major goals is to end child labor, so providing income to families is very important.

The growth of students from only 20 children when it opened to the 100 students – between the ages of four to 15 – that are now attending, shows how successful this nontraditional school is at vocational training. So successful that the couple plan on building an additional 100 schools around India through the Akshar Foundation in the next five years.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.

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