Rukmini Barua Deka
“Akshar aims at breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty. It seeks to empower the children to learn so that they earn while learning. This resembles Gandhiji’s Nai Talim or Buniyadi Talim which is in accordance with integrated education. Our students are also our teachers as the seniors teach the juniors. When they teach others they become better teachers and better students.” said Alaka Sarma, Founder, Akshar Foundation, Pamohi, Garchuk, Guwahati.
Situated in a pleasant ambience of picturesque Pamohi, this unique school accepts plastic waste as school fees from the students who were mostly school drop -outs. Every morning students line up outside the school gate holding polythene bags full of plastic waste as the only form of fee that the school accepts. They take quick steps to enter school with giggles in their faces in the midst of greenery full of plants, trees and foliage.
The story behind Akshar School is that way back in 2013 Mazin Mukhtar arrived in India from New York on a different School project. His work co- incidentally led him to meet Parmita, then a Masters Degree student in Social Work at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences who was planning to work in the education sector. Parmita made Mazin acquainted with the social environment, showing the statistics on paper and on ground, pointing out the challenges and the terrain of the region. So, as a couple, Mazin and Parmita started Akshar, a school , bridging the gap between conventional academics and vocational training. For implementing innovative ideas, Akshar’s revolutionary model is doing highly commendable work, making a paradigm shift in education in this region. The efforts of Akshar Foundation have been highly appreciated by the Niti Aayog, United Nations, NDTV, World Economic Forum, Time, BBC, Al Jazeera, Forbes, Reuters and many more.
“In establishing the school, one of the first challenges that we faced was to convince the local villagers to send their children to Akshar School as most of them were send to the stone quarries close by to work. We had to make a curriculum to fulfill their needs, providing employment to them in the long run”, says Mazin Mukhtar.
The mission of Akshar Foundation is Poverty Eradication through education. The founders intend to provide high quality education, assistance with basic needs, vocational training and job placement, small business incubation and gentrification. The method being adopted is training and employing teens in teaching younger children with high quality low cost model.
“We are not a typical school which is evident from the moment you enter. Here you will find students attending classes, sitting in open spaces under bamboo roofs. The idea behind this is to break open the conventiona0l ideas of education. Instead of age specific grades or class, we have levels where students of various age groups study the same thing all at the same time”, says Parmita, Co-founder, Akshar.
The students needed the right blend of theory and practical knowledge to be skilled for various job opportunities. Due to this, the school curriculum, now, has an array of vocational courses like singing, dancing, solar paneling, embroidery, cosmetology, carpentry, gardening, organic farming electronics and others. There is also a plan to start a course on sustainable landscaping. The students are made to recycle plastic as it was disturbing every time when the classrooms were filled with toxic fumes coming from burning plastic in the area.
Akshar was very well received at the United Nations on the day of presentation on Status of Women in New York City, March 2016. Akshar is now training 100 students and adults in the pilot school after which there will be expansion to new schools. Two teachers who have been with Akshar almost from the beginning have received the Teacher par Excellence award at the IIHM Teachers Day Awards 2019. Assam Foundation of North America has agreed to support Akshar Foundation. It received great applause, submitting the policy recommendation of plastic school fees for every school at the recently concluded United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York in September, 2019.