UNICEF tell us that “as of 2001 estimates around 115 million children of primary school age, the majority of them girls, do not attend school..” Kids may wonder, why don’t they, or why can’t they go to school? The main reason is that some countries do not have enough money and resources to build schools. Some families live too far away from school… other families can’t afford to send their kids to school when they could be working. Other kids aren’t allowed to go because of their background, their gender, or their citizenship.
Educating children helps reduce poverty and promote gender equality. Many organizations and individuals are coming up with creative ways to help provide an education for students in some of the toughest environmental and cultural challenges, who live some of the most unique lifestyles on Earth. I recently read the book “Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World,” by Susan Hughes, which describes many of these amazing schools. Here’s a peek at four of my favorites in the book, each with a link to photos or videos from the schools:In Bangladesh, which is in Asia near northeast India, an architect named Mohammed Rezwan has developed boat schools to make education more accessible to students living in the region. Floods from monsoons and the heavily melting glaciers of the Himalaya Mountains due to climate change, have damaged thousands of schools. Now, for 3 hours a day, students board a boat to have lessons in math, reading, writing, English, Bengali, and conservation. Solar panels (!!) provide electricity for internet and a DVD player, and the boats are equipped with books. See this slideshow of children attending boat schools in Bangladesh.
In a high-altitude desert in the Himalaya Mountains, in the Ladakh region of India, a school was built to help sustain the Buddhist way of life for the students (who are mostly of Tibetan descent). The region is closed off from the rest of India for more than half of the year due to severe weather, limited electricity, and earthquakes. There were few local schools, and parents did not wish to send their children to boarding schools where traditional Ladakhi culture could be lost.
One special aspect of the Druk White Lotus School was that it was built by local architects, using local materials, and traditional building methods so that materials did not need to be transported long distances, and so that the local knowledge could help the school survive earthquakes. Combining modern technology (such as solar energy and thick insulating walls against the cold) and traditional Tibetan Buddhist culture (of “do no harm”), the school is a sustainable model that gives students the best of both worlds. See these photographs to learn more about the typical day of a student at Druk White Lotus School.
In Burkina Faso, in West Africa, students needed a new school to replace their collapsing local school; not only was it old, it was also very dark, and very hot. An architect named Diebedo, who was the son of the chief, was the first person to win a scholarship and get a university degree. He came up with an ingenious way to build a school that used a lot of natural light and circulated the air so that the students could be comfortable without electricity. As an added bonus, Gando’s villagers were trained to do the construction, and now earn money working in other towns. Nearby communities are following Gando’s example and building sustainable schools and houses as well. Here’s a short video of Diebedo, and how he used local materials and methods to create an award-winning school that keeps students cool and dry.
The last school showcased today is in northern Russia. The Evenks are a group of Siberian indigenous peoples, who maintain a traditional, nomadic lifestyle based on raising reindeer. They move their herds over a huge territory so they can graze from one area to the next. Several families live in a camp and travel together, and the parents and elders teach their children everything they need to know as reindeer herders. French-born ethnologist (a branch of anthropology) Alexandra Lavrillier arrived in 1994 to do a photo expedition, and was so impressed by the people’s warmth and efforts to conserve their culture, she created a moveable school just for the Evenk children. Besides the regular Russian curriculum, the students also learn English, French, and some computer skills. See these photos of Alexandra and her school.
I was so impressed by these schools! Use these photo essays as a writing prompt or discussion started with your students. If you could choose one of these schools to visit, which would you choose? Can you imagine going to school on a boat or in a tent? What would be the difficulties? How did these schools overcome the challenges from their environment or situation?