Based in Assam, India, the Akshar Foundation is on a mission to create a new type of sustainable school with its unique education model. The education reform initiative strives to create government schools that are eco-friendly, low-cost and centered in building the most successful environment for children to learn and grow.

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students sorting plastics for recycling

At the forefront of the school’s positive environmental impact is its recycling model. Instead of tuition, students pay “plastic school fees” by bringing in a minimum of 25 pieces of plastic from their homes or communities each week. Most of these plastic items are non-recyclable and would otherwise be destined for a landfill. Instead, the school staff and students find creative ways to reuse the plastic throughout the campus.

While India doesn’t have nearly as much plastic use per capita compared to the United States, the country’s massive population (and the fact that 40 percent of plastic waste is neither collected nor recycled) means that India still produces enough plastic to pollute its oceans and rivers substantially. Luckily, thanks to the country’s recent bans on single-use plastics, along with innovative organizations like the Akshar Foundation, India is beginning to fight back against plastic pollution.

Related: India plans to eliminate single-use plastic by 2022

wall made from eco-bricks

Clean plastic waste is collected by the children, who can take items that would otherwise be thrown out from their own homes or collect plastic from around their communities. The material is then separated and cleaned, and the plastic bottles are compacted with other plastic materials, such as plastic bags and packets, to create a “brick.” These “eco-bricks” are used to construct things for the school, everything from toilets to flower planters, to save money and teach the students important vocational skills. The kids learn how to make the bricks, mix the cement and learn the construction skills necessary to build with and reuse recycled materials.

solar panels surrounded by palm trees

In addition to the recycling program and regular curriculum, students are trained in sustainable subjects such as gardening, carpentry and solar tech. The foundation plans to eventually implement irrigation, electronics and lighting into the educational program to supplement the Akshar Landscaping Enterprise as well. Through this program, students are taught to run a profitable business in the landscaping industry and how to beautify public spaces, all while connecting with nature.

kids taking care of stray dogs

India accounts for over one-third of the world’s rabies-related deaths, most of which are spread by the large number of stray dogs that live on the country’s streets. The school runs a campus animal shelter in order to bring awareness to the street animal crisis. The students and faculty sheltered, cared for and found homes for 20 dogs in the first year of the program. The children play a part in the medical care for the dogs, as well as caring for them while they are recovering from medical procedures before finding them forever homes. Students are able to learn basic medical skills thanks to this program.

tutor teaching students at a table

Akshar schools enable a “meta-teaching” program so that each student has access to personalized, private tutoring to supplement regular lessons. Each younger child is mentored by an older student who has been trained to tutor, all while being guided by an adult teacher.

Related: Green school in Bali shows students how to live sustainably

Children in India are often motivated to quit school out of pressure to earn an income and help their families, resulting in about 47 million students dropping out of school by the 10th grade throughout the country. Akshar has this covered, too. The foundation pays students to work part-time at the school to supplement their learning, with wages based on academic level and teaching skill (meaning students are motivated to improve grades even more).

older students teaching younger students how to use computers

With sponsorship from the Motivation for Excellence Nalanda Project, Akshar students have access to the latest technology to aid in their learning. Student teachers are able to utilize tech such as tablets to add an extra resource to tutoring and mentoring. Younger students are therefore able to familiarize themselves with technology and be taught by a peer who is closer to them in age in addition to an adult teacher.

All students take part in the secondary curriculum that combines abstract learning with practical life skills. Some examples include pairing carpentry with mathematics, solar technology with physics, embroidery with economics, teaching with psychology, recycling with ecology and landscaping with biology.

students installing solar panels

Through these inventive school models, the Akshar Foundation hopes to arm its students with skills that will help them in all aspects of life. In addition to gaining experience in the usual subjects of math and science, children learn empathy, responsibility, sustainability and cooperation.

The flagship 100-student school, Akshar Forum, serves as a “testing ground” for teaching methods that will eventually spread to more and more schools throughout the country in the coming years. By implementing a fellowship program, government schools will have the chance to learn Akshar’s innovative education design for a period of two years by a trained fellow.

Partners for the school include the United Nations, The Education Alliance and the Education Research & Development Foundation. Learn more about the Akshar Foundation by visiting its website.

+ Akshar Foundation

Images via Akshar Foundation