Senior students teach juniors in this school

What would you do to stop dropouts from your school? How will you teach children when their parents want them to work instead of study? How do you educate a child, make a difference, when you are pressed for funds?

About three years ago, Parmita Sarma and Mazin Mukhtar, decided to start a school, Akshar Foundation School, in Pamohi in Assam. They had no funds, just a sheer determination to educate children.

“In the beginning, Parmita went door-to-door trying to convince parents to send their children to school. Although some of them agreed to send their boys, they weren’t prepared to send their girls as they didn’t believe in educating daughters,” recalls Mukhtar, “Even with boys, it wasn’t easy. Parents didn’t want them to go to school when they reached class 11 or 12. Instead, they wanted their children to work.”

In the beginning, Parmita went door-to-door trying to convince parents to send their children to school. Although some of them agreed to send their boys, they weren’t prepared to send their girls as they didn’t believe in educating daughters

In order to ensure parents send their wards to schools and not force them into employment, the two devised a novel way. It encouraged its senior students to teach their juniors. This not only boosted the confidence of these students but also helped them earn money. “We pay them for their services. We, however, don’t pay in cash, but in toy currency or put their money in a virtual account. This money is then spent by these students to buy any item of their interest. We help them buy whatever they need. They usually buy shoes or other essentials for themselves with this money.”

Although, this initiative has discouraged many parents from discontinuing their ward’s education, but a few months back, two of its students weren’t so lucky. “We had two 15-year-old students who dropped out as they got a well-paying job outside the school. Since we didn’t have enough funds, we were unable to offer them a better deal.”

The school, which now has more than 100 students, is struggling to raise funds. “Funding has been a challenge. However, we are hopeful that we will soon get it.”

Despite the hardships, the school charges no fee from students. In fact, from this year onwards, in the name of fee, it has started a unique practice of encouraging its students to get plastic waste from their homes. Each child is required to bring at least 25 plastic items every week. “We wanted children and their parents to do away with the practice of burning plastic, and also learn the process and importance of segregation and recycling waste,” said Mukhtar. “Because of this initiative of ours, the practice of burning plastic among local residents has reduced considerably. It has still not ended. Some of them do burn it along with cardboard and paper.”

Despite the hardships, the school charges no fee from students. Instead of fee, it asks its students to get plastic waste from their home. Each child is required to bring at least 25 plastic items every week

But what if the students are unable to get 25 plastic items every week?

“We don’t penalise students, and take whatever they get. The idea is to develop sensitivity for environment among them,” said Mukhtar.

That’s not all!

Life skills also forms an important part of the school’s curriculum. Here, students are taught about landscaping, how to install and operate solar panels, how to build eco-bricks and run an animal shelter (rescuing and treating injured or abandoned animals (dogs) and finding them homes).

Moreover, in order to make students digitally literate, the school has managed to secure sponsorship from the Motivation for Excellence Nalanda Project.

Going beyond Assam

Of late, the Foundation’s services have also been sought by the South Delhi Municipal Corporation for its Lajpat Nagar school in Delhi. “We are implementing our existing education model in this school. We plan to expand our programme in five more government schools in Delhi in the next year,” said Mukhtar.

Future plans

“Our dream is to see no teenager dropping out of school because he has to earn money. We want schools to address this issue. We want every school in India to have a recycling center and an animal shelter which cares for its puppies born around it. This way, we can stop the sufferings of animals also.”

The Foundation is aiming to implement their model of education in at least 100 schools in the next five years.

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