A Revolutionary School Model: Post COVID Recovery & Future Plans

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

After their initial struggle to establish Akshar Foundation to educate and train the underprivileged children and making the parents realize how their children can earn while learning, Mr. Mazin Mukhtar shares how Akshar plans to scale across India and how this revolution can help the urban poor and the school-less population. He shares with us how each area has its own specific set of problems and the students need to be trained to tackle such problems.

Mr. Mukhtar shares how the COVID-19 pandemic has completely shut down their operations and how it has affected the families of the students. The organisation has been converted into a relief-center and the teachers and senior students are voluntarily helping out as social workers.

We learnt about the future plans of Akshar Foundation, how it plans to establish disaster management centers that can meet the needs of the students in terms of health care, medication, etc.

Here is an excerpt from the rest of our conversation.

Q.How important do you think is the role of conventional education in this fast-paced technological era?”

A: “Education is as important as ever, I would argue. Technology is sufficient for the middle and upper-class children who have all of their other needs met but it is far from being adequate for the underprivileged students. Although we teach English, Mathematics and Science, etc. for their examinations, on top of that our school is a place to receive healthcare training, guidance, career counseling, vocational training. Akshar is more than just a school, it is a shelter to receive food and clean water, a safe haven to escape abuse at home. So, a laptop and a tablet at home are not sufficient for them but we still incorporate technological training into the curriculum. Most of our Maths classes are conducted on tablets where the students have individual profiles that the teachers can track and learn. So, there is a lot we can gain from technology but it cannot replace conventional schooling.”

Q: How do you see this kind of a model being replicated pan Indian and especially the curriculum's significance with regards to rural livelihoods?”

A: We have already received many requests, from those who are already running schools and those who wish to start one, to educate the underprivileged children. And for that, we are developing an Akshar education model certification. So, we are starting to get into the field of training teachers and school leaders, how to replicate our model.

In that case, our school at Guwahati would become a teacher training center, to train teachers all over India, so that they could replicate it at their schools.

We also have a fellowship called “Teach for India”, where we will send young graduates who are trained in our model to different schools to implement it there. Our dream is to see this model replicated not just for underprivileged students but also for all students participating in such a curriculum, where they are not only learning but fixing the society they are living.

We don’t believe that in order to make a change you have to be an adult. We also understand that there are a lot of teenagers who are hungry to bring in a change and hungry to do something more than just sitting in the class.

Q. "There is a school-less population in the Urban cities, can this small revolution help the urban poor also and keeping in view the local environment can this curriculum give them better life skills and the option of livelihood?"

A: A big part of the model is to look at the specific problems in the context of each individual school and have the students tackle those problems in the area.

We are working with a primary school in Delhi. Recently there has been an issue of food shortage, our teachers there have been participating in distributing food relief. Whatever the issue is in each area, each one can be addressed appropriately.

Of course, the main issue in urban centers is employment, so our hope is that our urban school can become an employment center where people can call up the school asking whether they need a security guard or they need a nanny or a child care specialist or a private tutor. Then they will call us and we can appoint these teenagers into the jobs where they can generate some earnings and at the same time continue their schooling until they reach the college level.

The other problem in cities is the violence and crime in children and teenagers who don’t have a focus in their lives. With our model, we have seen in Delhi and Guwahati that the teenagers that came to us when we started were aggressive and violent. At a tender age of 11 or 12, they started taking alcohol and smoking. But after they entered our school and they started earning, they became interested in learning new skills as well. And within 6 months of joining, they were motivated to learn more and soon quit taking those intoxicants into their body.

Q. “How has the COVID-19 pandemic situation affected Akshar so far? And now as there has been such a huge gap, how is your plan for a post COVID recovery, especially among the students?”

A: The COVID 19 situation has basically shut down all of our schooling operations which is very detrimental, especially to underprivileged students who don’t have access to tablets and laptops so they can have effective e-learning at home. Private school kids have shifted to e-learning whereas it is really not an option for the children who are most in need.

So, we have essentially converted the school now to a food-relief center. We’ve distributed a 2-week ration to about 10,000 people in Guwahati including our students and families. That includes about 60 tonnes of rice and 15 tonnes of potatoes and other vegetables. Our teachers are participating in this food distribution. Some of our older students are essentially acting as social workers in their community, identifying houses in their locality where there is a food shortage, then Akshar teachers go to those houses and deliver food ration, these are all families which are left unemployed due to lockdown.

So, our next step is to convert the schools into a disaster management/ relief center that can meet the needs of the students in terms of health care, medication, access to food and clean water an provide shelter, a safe haven to the victims of abuse.

We hope we can convince some people in power that schools for the underprivileged are quite essential and is not a non-essential service and thus we need to resume services for them. We are still doing some classes on WhatsApp and teachers delivering worksheets to the homes of the students and collecting the same but it is nearly not enough.

Our hope is that if we can develop a model where these schools for the underprivileged students are not just schools for learning from the mere textbook but they also serve as a disaster management center. Then not only will the students develop the kinds of skills that they need to stay employed in a COVID world but the schools can also tackle the suffering of the people and their communities.

Read the first part here: A Revolutionary School Model: Ending Child Labour & Encouraging Child Education in a Rural Community

Stay Tuned for more such stories from Rural India :)

Reported & Edited By-

Gowri & Himadri