Couple Start a School for Poor Kids That Accepts Plastic Waste Recycling Instead of Tuition

June 5, 2019 Updated: June 11, 2019

The world is becoming more and more connected, and the opportunity to go to school has never been higher than it is right now.

For some families, though, there’s still an unfortunate financial barrier preventing children from attending school for very long. Rural areas of the world continue to see children dropping out far younger than in developed areas, leaving cycles of poverty in certain communities that are difficult to pull out of.

India is one of the countries where this is all too common. According to statistics, less than half of India’s population aged 6 to 14 attend school. Yet, one school is working to change that while cleaning up the world in the process.

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A pair of educators named Mazin Muktar and Parmita Sarma met in 2013 and formed the Ashkar School as a couple.

Located in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, the school opened its doors in 2016 with a simple tuition requirement: each child is required to bring a weekly “tuition payment” of at least 25 recyclable waste items in order to get through the doors.

The tuition serves a dual purpose. For families who are living on pennies, it gives them an opportunity to send their children to school without worrying about choosing between an education and food or shelter.

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For the community, it also provides a way to clean things up; doubling as a recycling center, the school is able to incentivize the rural area to sort out recyclable trash rather than leaving it to pile up and ruin the environment. Rather than burn recyclable trash to stay warm in the winter, the community is taught of the dangers behind burning plastics and given education on viable alternatives—all while picking up waste to find a way to get it reused properly.

It’s been three years since the school was first opened, and the progress has been incredible. According to a profile by Forbes, the school has grown from just 20 students when it opened to around 100; not only have the students become “good stewards of their community,” they’ve helped incentivize cleanups by even those who aren’t looking to pick up plastics to pay for classes.

The best part, though, is that the school isn’t just teaching the kids to read and write.

Akshar's groundbreaking teaching model

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In a smaller community, the ability to provide true job skills is absolutely invaluable. So that’s exactly what Muktar and Sarma have done, but with an environmental twist.

They teach the students everything from carpentry to electronics but gear the training towards environmentally friendly practices, all while letting some of the older students work to teach and tutor for pay. So while some of the students may be learning to build better buildings or teach the future generations, others are learning how to install solar panels—meaning that the recycling isn’t going to stand alone as a way to save the planet in the small rural region.

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So far, the school is a unique institution that largely stands alone in the area. But for the couple who founded it, Forbes has reported that this isn’t how they plan to settle. With plans for another 100 schools operated in a similar manner over the next five years, the pair will be plenty busy—and hopefully, the planet will benefit from it as much as the students they impact.