Akshar Forum eschews the traditional classroom and school design for a revolutionary new organisational structure. We follow a model inspired by the military chain of command, with all students expected to assist in the education of children younger than them. All of our students are trained in the craft of teaching, under the guidance of an adult teacher who provides instructions to the junior teachers and is always nearby. This way, students receive vocational training ideally suited for low-income communities, where there is always demand for more teachers. They are paid a small wage, commensurate with their academic grade level. A junior teacher’s rank and salary are determined by their academic level, maturity, and teaching skill, not necessarily age. We have observed major benefits with this approach:
• Children from low income communities are often driven away from schooling, forced into scavenging, begging, unskilled manual labour, and criminality. The opportunity to earn money keeps at-risk kids engaged in school.
• Hiring students allows us to achieve optimally low teacher-student ratios affordably. Small classrooms allow for active discussion, focused collaboration, full engagement. Teachers can focus on teaching, rather than crowd control.
• Since they can proceed through the curriculum at their own pace, and since their wages are determined by their grade level, students are driven to learn more, so they can earn more, and teach more. Furthermore, students can be assessed for mastery of a topic based on their ability to teach it.
• By teaching, children become better learners. They gain confidence, valuable skills, real- life work and leadership experience that benefits them throughout their lives. They also learn about personal finance, civic duty, and the rewarding feeling of a good day’s work. Children with behavioural problems quickly become model students after receiving this degree of respect and positive attention from younger students.
Students proceed through the curriculum at their own pace, mastering each step before moving on. They take examinations, but on an individual basis and on their own time, to remove the negative associations testing can create in children. The senior teacher groups students in classes based on academic ability—rather than age—in fluid groups that may vary on a weekly basis.
All children love to learn. It is an essential human instinct. Children are turned off from schooling when it becomes too fast-paced and confusing, or too slow and boring. When children master each step before proceeding, they avoid the confusion and bewilderment which makes many children hate school.
Rather than being held back by classmates in their age group, academically gifted students are encouraged to speed through the curriculum to early graduation and online university courses.
Half of the school day consists of traditional, structured learning—discussions, lectures, assignments, and groups projects—in small classes of up to seven students. The benefits of small classes are immense and immediately apparent.
Students in small classes are engaged, with everyone getting involved to some degree, and no one feeling left out.Less social anxiety, less stress, and
a calmer environment leads to better quality learning.
The other half of the school day consists of independent learning periods, where students are free to work, alone or in groups, on projects and activities of their own choosing. Teachers use this time for one-on-one interactions with students to address individual curriculum goals and tackle any academic weaknesses.