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9th August 2013 at 01:00
Floating schools - Free-flowing education in Bangladesh

It is widely acknowledged that schools across the world are facing a space issue. Enrolments, especially in primary schools, are increasing and schools simply cannot keep up with providing the necessary facilities.

The make-do solutions that schools are rolling out are varied. Some are putting up stud walls to split classrooms, others are utilising outdoor spaces, and one school in East London has built a hodge-podge construction of classrooms on stilts and temporary Portakabins leaving the grounds looking like the belly of a poorly loaded container ship.

Many schools, however, have no choice but to do nothing and muddle through, filling classrooms beyond capacity. Budget is often the big issue: permanent classrooms and the land to build them on do not come cheap.

But Mohammed Rezwan, the founder of Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, a non- profit organisation in Bangladesh, has come up with a potential solution: floating schools.

Bangladesh has a severe problem with flooding during monsoon season, meaning that many children cannot get to their schools for months at a time. Rezwan's answer was to convert old boats into classrooms so that students could access education year round.

He started with just one floating classroom but recently announced that he now has 20 schools, 10 libraries and seven adult education centres all bobbing on the Bangladesh waterways, with plans to increase this up to 100 boats in the next five years.

"Our floating schools are a combination of school bus and school house," Rezwan told The New York Times. "I thought, if the children cannot come to school because of floods, then the school should go to them by boat."

Of course, if you aren't near water then a floating classroom is not going to be of much use. But the mobile school idea is adaptable. St Francis Primary in Birmingham, England, has converted an old double-decker bus into a classroom, while "Gus the Bus" - a distinctive yellow American school bus - has become a preschool classroom in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, US.

The benefits of a mobile solution are multiple. First, the classroom does not necessarily have to take up space in the school grounds - and if it is on site, it can be moved to accommodate events as the need arises. Second, conversion of boats and buses is cheaper than building new permanent classrooms or buying new land. An added advantage is that the children get lessons in design, engineering and creative problem-solving, simply by attending class.

What the rather strict health and safety laws of some Western countries would make of mobile classrooms is debatable. Yet the problem of growing enrolments is not going to go away, so innovative solutions like Rezwan's should be considered - and perhaps used to inspire similarly creative ideas.

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