Innovative Practice - All hands on deck

8th February 2013 at 00:00
Learners in flood-hit Bangladesh were unable to come to lessons, so a floating school brought the lessons to them

The background

Every year in Bangladesh around one-fifth of the country is flooded, and in some years up to a third of the land can be underwater.

In 1998, social entrepreneur Mohammed Rezwan decided to do something to help his community in the northwest of the country, which is particularly prone to severe flooding during the monsoon season.

"Many of my friends and relatives couldn't go to school because of the flooding and it was very difficult for me to accept that situation," he says.

So he came up with the revolutionary idea of putting schools on boats: "I thought that if the children cannot come to the school then the school should go to them."

The project

After raising funds for four years Rezwan and his non-profit organisation Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha had enough money to create the first purpose-built floating school, a "combination of school bus and school house", he says.

He designed the boat using local knowledge and built it with the help of local resources and labour. Big enough to accommodate 30 pupils, it was also fitted with a waterproof roof to survive the rainy season, while solar panels provide power for a laptop with internet access, together with other educational resources.

The project grew in popularity and there are now 20 boats, which operate six days a week all year round.

The boats are equipped to run three primary classes a day, each lasting two and a half hours. They collect pupils from up to four riverside villages for the classes.

"The school travels to them so they don't have to travel to school," Rezwan says. "In hard-to-reach areas we are literally bringing education to their doorsteps."

Tips from the scheme

Rezwan says:

"You must understand the local context and involve the community as much as possible. What are the local resources? Who has the knowledge and the skills to help?"

Respond to the educational needs of the community. In this case pupils are taught about biodiversity, environmental pollution and the relationship between the river and their culture.

Help the learners to improve their skills so they can become educators themselves and pass on knowledge to others in their community.

Evidence that it works?

The project was honoured at the World Innovation Summit for Education (Wise) in Doha, Qatar, last year. It was one of six projects from around the world to win a Wise Award in 2012 for having a "tangible, positive impact upon society", and for its innovative approach to solving an important global problem.

The project has helped not only schoolchildren but their parents and the wider community as well. Villagers receive on-board training on children's and women's rights, nutrition, health and hygiene, sustainable farming, marketing systems and how to adapt to climate change.

There are still more than 2 million children out of school in Bangladesh and Rezwan wants to expand the project by training other social entrepreneurs to replicate it in their communities.


Approach: Using boats to create floating, solar-powered schools in flood-hit areas of Bangladesh during the monsoon

Started: 2002

Leader: Social entrepreneur Mohammed Rezwan.

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