“Floating schools” ensure education in flood-prone Bangladesh

Courtesy of: Abir Abdullah/Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha
Courtesy of: Abir Abdullah/Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha

Re-posted from tcktcktck.org

In Bangladesh, annual flooding caused by the monsoon rains can disrupt school for hundreds of thousands of the country’s students – in some areas for up to 4 months a year – as rivers rise 4 meters and roads become impassable.

But a new initiative aims to ensure year-round schooling for Bangladesh’s children – using solar-powered “floating schools”.

The wooden boat classrooms drive right up the mainland, pick children up from the swampy banks and float during the school day, ensuring access to education even during the height of the monsoon season. Students attend classes for an average of two or three hours a day, six days a week and for many this is the only education they have access to.

With solar panels on the school roof offering a source of energy, the classrooms are equipped with an internet-linked laptop, a library and electronic resources, and provide all the necessary tools and equipment  to teach up to grade IV level for 30 students.

The solar-powered boats then also double up as a workshop space for parents, where classes in agriculture, finance, health and hygiene take place after normal school hours.

The floating classroom is the brainchild of non-profit Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, and since its introduction in 2002, the project has reached 70,000 children using 20 boats.

Sat on a delta where several major rivers meet, Bangladesh – home to 152 million people – is highly vulnerable to climate change. The country is being squeezed from the south by cyclones and sea level rise, while in the north swollen rivers and melting glaciers in the Himalayas bring the constant threat of flooding.

In 1998, flooding inundated two-thirds of the country, killing 700 people and leaving 21 million homeless, while the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates more than a million Bangladeshis could be hit by rising sea levels by 2050.

Last week the World Bank approved $400 million in financing to Bangladesh to increase the resilience of the country’s coastal population to climate change induced flooding. The Coastal Embankment Improvement Project will upgrade the country’s embankment system by increasing the area protected by polders – low lying areas of land enclosed by levees.

But as climate change threatens to bring increasing extreme events to the Bangladesh  it poses a severe risk to the wellbeing of the high numbers of children living in the country. Schools are often a hub for ensuring children’s needs are met, and can also help them recover from climate events, as well as providing a space to prepare them for future impacts.

Pascal Villeneuve, the Unicef representative for Bangladesh told the New York Times:

Making sure that schools are resilient against natural disasters should be a priority for any disaster risk reduction preparedness and planning. We know from experience, getting children back into a school environment as soon as possible is the best way to help them recover from the shock and destruction of a natural disaster.

Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha also has an incentive programme for poorer families to encourage them to send their children to class. By providing solar-powered lanterns to those students who attend regularly, not only do they allow children to learn after dark, but their parents can also use the lanterns to develop crafts, contributing to their household income.

As well as 20 schools, the organisation has 10 libraries, 7 adult learning centres and 5 health clinics, all on boats. Over the next 5 years it hopes to add another 100 boats and reach an additional 100,000 people.

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