Plastic Waste as Tuition Fees

Akshar Foundation School, Assam: Pioneering Sustainable Education
To tackle the urgent challenge of plastic waste management while fostering an environmentally conscious ethos, the Akshar Foundation School
in Assam, India, has pioneered a distinctive approach to its fee structure and seamlessly integrates education with environmental sustainability.
They demonstrate a profound commitment to nurturing both the minds of their students and the health of our planet through multiple

  1. Unique Tuition System: Instead of the traditional fee structure, students are required to submit a certain amount of plastic waste. This approach is a shining example of how educational institutions can play a pivotal role in driving societal change and serves as an inspiration for other institutions to think outside the box when addressing socio-environmental issues.
    > Objective: The primary goal of this initiative is two-fold: to make education more accessible to underprivileged students who might
    struggle to pay school fees and to drive community involvement in environmental cleanup.
    > Operational Mechanism: Instead of monetary fees, students bring 25 plastic waste items every Friday, turning their weekly act into a
    pledge for a more sustainable future. This serves as their “payment” for attending classes.
    > Awareness and Education: Beyond just being a tuition system, this approach serves as a practical lesson in environmental science. Students not only learn the importance of recycling, but they also see firsthand the detrimental effects of plastic waste on the environment.
    > Community Involvement: Families work together in collecting waste, fostering a communal sense of responsibility toward the environment. Initially, when attendance at the school was free, the attempt to integrate parents into a plastic recycling initiative saw limited success. It was then the school decided to start the “plastic waste as tuition fees” initiative. Additionally, as a part of this
    initiative, parents have committed to refraining from burning plastic, further enhancing the region's ecological health.
  2. Evolving Curriculum: Akshar School's approach to education is distinguished. Students are placed based on aptitude, not age. This allows for a personalized learning experience where students learn at their own pace.
  3. Student Employment: The school found a novel way to combat local unemployment by employing its students. As they progress, students can teach junior classes under supervision, earning pocket money in the process.
  4. Point-based Payment: To ensure students' earnings are spent appropriately, the school introduced a point system. Local shops partner with the school, allowing students to purchase items using points, which the school later reimburses in cash.
  5. Financial Literacy: The institution also established a bank where students can deposit their points, teaching them about savings and financial management.
  6. Vocational Training: The school imparts practical skills alongside academic knowledge. Students learn trades like carpentry, solar panel fitting, tailoring, and gardening, epitomizing the school's "Learning by Doing" philosophy.
  7. Collaborations: Seeing the success of their model, the founders collaborated with a Delhi-based school and are working with the Assam government to expand their educational framework across the state. The Assam government enlisted the couple's help for this national cleanliness drive - Swachh Bharat Mission. They are now responsible for collecting plastic waste from various private schools
  8. Plastic Recycling: On campus, a recycling plant converts plastic to eco-bricks. Using a machine from the Netherlands, the school also upcycles plastic into useful items like planters and keyrings.

    By 2021, their innovative model had been implemented in 14 schools in Assam. Their broader vision is to incorporate their unique curriculum into 200 more schools by 2025. By merging education with environmental responsibility, they're sculpting a generation that's not just academically sound, but also socially responsible and environmentally conscious. The school is affiliated with the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS). By intertwining access to education with environmental responsibility, the school has empowered its students and paved the way for a cleaner, more sustainable future.
    Parmita Sarma and Mazin Mukhtar,
    Akshar Foundation