In an Indian school, students pay for their lessons with plastic waste to be recycled and receive innovative professional educational training in environmental education
In Dispur, the capital of the Assam region in the north east ofIndia, there is a truly innovative school, the Akshar Forum school, which is laying the foundations for a possible new and innovative method of teaching in Indian public schools and beyond. First of all Akshar students, instead of paying their tuition, are asked to deliver 25 plastic items a week for recycling (for a total of about 10 thousand objects per month), coming from household waste or those of the neighborhood. But the particularity of this school, one sustainability best practice which has attracted the attention of the international media press does not end there. In fact, at the Akshar Forum school, people are taught to respect the environment and to recycle, but at the same time they guarantee aprofessional environmental education and unconventional teaching methods are adopted, also aimed at combating child labor.
A new school concept, to save young people and the environment
According to the local non-governmental organization, the city of Dispur alone, which has just over a million inhabitants, produces almost 40 tons of waste per day; as if that weren't enough, the local population has the habit of burning much of the plastic used, causing highly toxic fumes. An alarming situation, which drew the attention of Mukhtar & Sarma, the young couple who in 2016 raised funds and financing from private donors to manage this school project. The goal, from the beginning, was to give life to a free school accessible to all that could stem the social and ecological problems of the area as much as possible, at the same time laying the foundations for an experimental and potentially replicable initiative elsewhere. The school, completely free, has included a recycling center, but the parents were reluctant to make a contribution in terms of household waste, precisely because they preferred to burn it at home. From there came the idea of introducing a mandatory tax which consisted of either a payment in money or the delivery of plastic waste. This policy of alternative tuition quickly took hold, so much so that it was quickly accepted by all parents.
Starting from the bottom to form the eco warriors of the future
The school currently has over a hundred students, aged between 4 and 15. Many of them, before starting school, were laborers at nearby stone quarries, where they made about $ 2.50 a day. Mukhtar & Sarma, in addition to the ecological cause, also had at heart the one linked to fight against child labor and in this sense too they have come up with an unconventional solution. They devised a one-of-a-kind learning model by recruiting kids who could tutor the children and establishing a reward system for students that consisted of fake banknotes to use in local stores to buy snacks, clothes, shoes or toys. . The monetary incentive, which goes hand in hand with the achievement of academic results, is proving to be a powerful motivator for the community. In this way, children are motivated to go to school and welcome it with interest professional environmental training which is made available to them; the students, in fact, attend carpentry and electronics workshops, learn to install solar panels and, above all, carry out outdoor recycling, for example transforming waste plastic supplied by households into ecological bricks. Thanks to this project, the children have convinced their families not to burn plastic anymore, and in general in the community there is a greater awareness of environmental issues and a greater sense of responsibility. In short, the success and positive impact of Akshar's school model have been such that the government has decided to entrust Mukhtar & Sarma with five other schools, and it is not excluded that this is only the beginning of a great change at the national level. .
Whatever happens in India, this initiative is the demonstration that, thanks to a few simple school and training initiatives, much can be done to transform the new generations into eco warriors champions of the environment and sustainability.
Photo: Indian plastic recycling school_dhakatribune.jpg