The Floating Schoolhouse

by Chadd McGlone

Chapel Hill, NC, United States

Can you imagine going to school on a boat? What would you think if instead of driving to school, a floating classroom came to your house every day? This is how it happens in northwest Bangladesh for nearly 70,000 students.

Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha is the nonprofit organization that runs these floating schools in the Chalanbeel region. Flooding is a big problem in this wetland area, preventing children from getting to school. If the students can’t come to class, then class will come to the students!

Water Worries

In the rainy season, from July to October, the rivers can surge up to 12 feet. Roads are washed away, and houses are destroyed. Most of the population lives in lowland areas, so it is estimated that the floods affect 5 million people.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of students drop out of school because of difficulties in reaching them, and now, with climate change, rivers rise an average of 14 inches above previous expanses. Scientists have predicted an increase of 6 feet in this century. A report issued by the European Union calls Bangladesh vulnerable to increasing global temperatures, so solutions are paramount.

A Boat Can Be a Schoolhouse

The boats that function as floating schools are approximately 50 feet long and 15 feet across. On average these can accommodate 30 students and their teacher. The boats are based on the strong structure of a traditional noka design, used for centuries in Bangladesh. Nontraditional elements have also been included, such as solar panels to power computers on the boats. This eco-friendly idea is one of the reasons why floating schools have been a great success.

On a typical day, a student sits outside her house on the river waiting for her school to arrive. Once on board the boat, classes are held in a variety of important subjects. Students may learn to identify local species of birds and fish and even make their own floating gardens.

And So Much More

These boats are not just for kids! The founders of the organization have tried to reach the general population by outfitting boats to offer

  • seminars on women’s health, nutrition, hygiene, sustainable farming
  • libraries
  • health clinics

Rivers don’t have to be barriers. Riding waves of opportunity, they can be the future.

Have a change to suggest for this story? We’d love for you to submit it!

Math Questions

  1. What is the area of the boat, given the dimensions mentioned in the story?
  2. Imagine you are a teacher of a floating school. You need to teach 5 subjects each day. You also need to give your students a break to stretch their legs every 45 minutes. Design your school day’s schedule.
  3. Graph what the rise in water level looks like if it increases 14 inches per year. Repeat this in centimeters. In 100 years, how much will the river have risen? Does that make sense?

Write your own math question and submit it here

Lesson Download

Social Justice Question

Given the effect of climate change, what responsibility do you believe industrialized countries should have in helping to pay for these floating schoolhouses?

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  1. Website of Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha
  2. New York Times article
  3. NPR story
  4. Three-minute video
  5. Case report on award given to Shidhulai for providing access to information technology

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