By Anushka Mukherjee
Akshar Forum in Assam is a school of various charms: don’t be surprised if you find a line of students waiting outside the school, armed with bags full of plastic, or if you walk into classrooms filled with students all ages – being taught by another student. It’s just another day at Akshar Forum, a small school run in the village of Pamohi in Guwahati.
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 livelihood by being responsible to the government’. Education is far from conventional here – Akshar helps students explore their own creativity and set their own limits.
In line with their out-of-the-box way of thinking, Akshar Forum recently implemented a new policy for their students: the students now pay fees in the form of plastic waste! As the vice-president of Akshar, Mr. Priyongsu Borthakur tells Homegrown, this idea was born out Akshar Forum’s recycling program.
Six months ago, the school started collecting dry plastic waste from households in the vicinity, setting the students up to the task of collection and segregation of this plastic waste. “The idea is to train students in recognizing how to live an eco-friendly life”, says Mr. Borthakur, “the entire recycling program is carried out by the students, from start to finish.” The students would go to houses and collect the plastic waste, segregate it in school and repurpose it in different ways. Recently, Akshar replicated this model and applied it to student households – now, the school accepts nothing but dry plastic waste from students as fees. “I still remember how our classrooms would be filled with toxic fumes every time someone in the nearby areas would burn plastics.” Parmita Sarma tells Better India. “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,”
In the village of Pamohi, many households prefer to send their children to the stone quarries instead of schools so that they can earn a few rupees a day. Akshar Forum aspires to change this. By encouraging families to offer only plastic waste as fees, Akshar seeks to encourage more students to join the school without it being a financial burden on their families. At the same time, it addresses the environmental issues of the small village, making sure that the simple exercise of recycling household plastic waste cultivates a sense of environmental awareness in the students.
Akshar forum has always been different – unlike other schools, it doesn’t believe in restricting students within the bounds of a fixed curriculum. Instead, it makes sure to focus on each students’ personal capacities and hone it. Here, students teach each other, and education for them is nothing short of a fun time. In collecting plastic waste as fees from the students, Akshar Forum is not only making education affordable, but also drawing an intersection between education and sustainability. In a small village in Assam, slowly, change is happening. And it’s here to stay.