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October 2, 2018
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November 30, 2018

Guest Blogpost: BRAC’s Boat Schools: Bringing Schools to Children

If underserved children living in isolated areas cannot go to school for more than half the year, how can we bring the schooling to them?

MD Muntasir | Programme Manager at BRAC Education Programme |

BRAC and its Education Programme:

In 1985, BRAC began its education programme (BEP) to provide quality education to poor and hard-to-reach areas bringing non-formal primary education to millions of children, particularly girls, and those affected by extreme poverty, violence, displacement or discrimination. BEP’s low-cost, scalable and innovative schooling model and range of complementary services has made it the world’s largest secular education provider reaching up to 3.3 million children, adolescents and youths in Bangladesh with 12.63 million graduates to date.

Innovation at its heart:

In northeast Bangladesh a vast swathe of area, being a shallow depression, has created a wetland ecosystem called haor. This low-lying bowl/saucer shaped depression catches surface runoff water from surrounding land and water bodies during monsoon and becomes never-ending stretches of turbulent water, with occasional villages floating as tiny islands. This submerged state continues for six to seven months each year following monsoon, until winter arrives. This unique geographic region, being isolated and hard to reach, is battered with rampant poverty and poor access to public services including education.

BRAC Education Programme (BEP) asked a simple question:

If underserved children living in isolated areas cannot go to school for more than half the year, how can we bring the schooling to them?

This simple question gave birth to a powerful idea to utilize the most limiting factor of the region, water, to peoples’ advantage and build schools in boats, which can act as school buses and school houses at the same time. These boats act as school buses by picking up children from different hati (small neighborhood) and dropping them off after school. In between, boats are anchored at a suitable place to run the day’s school activities.
Boat Schools in action:

Boat schools lessen parents’ burden to arrange for transporting children to schools which can be very expensive, time consuming and risky. Each boat school is manned by a boatman and an assistant boatman, who doubles as security personnel to safeguard the boat and children. Students and teachers are picked up from respective hatis and then schooling commences once the boat gets anchored at a suitable point.

Each Boat School accommodates 25-30 children and at least half of them are girls. BEP recruits a local female teacher to guide the same cohort of students through the full primary education cycle and deliver lessons in all subjects. The school hours are flexible and are fixed according to needs. Children do not have to pay any fees, there are no long holidays and there is little or no homework as most of their parents are unable to assist them. Children with special needs receive corrective surgeries along with devices like wheelchairs, hearing aids, glasses and ramps.

BRAC develops textbooks and other materials for up to class 3 and government textbooks are being used in classes 4 and 5, along with BRAC developed supplementary materials. There is a parents’ forum in every boat school where parents, teachers and BRAC staff meet for monthly discussions on issues like importance of regular attendance, students’ progress, health, personal hygiene, nutrition, parenting, preparedness for the coming school years, moral values, social awareness etc.
Influencing beyond school, through education:

BEP brought schools to students who previously had no chance of accessing education otherwise through this project. Through its model curriculum and teaching methods, BEP has helped bring about further changes for the better, through co-curricular activities and life-skills education (cleanliness, hygiene, moral values, climate change and disaster issues etc.) among the students and their parents. These direct beneficiaries are, in turn, spreading these knowledges while communicating with much wider communities. Thus, the project is bringing about a much larger and wider social and economic impact.

BRAC has already taken this wonderful innovation beyond the boundaries of Bangladesh. BRAC Philippines Programme has implemented a similar model and now operating 7 boat schools to serve the isolated and education-access deprived Badjao and Sama community in the region of Mindanao.

BEP has mobilized Government agencies and partnered with relevant agencies to make sure boat school students channel into the higher education system run by them.

Hear from one of our members, MD Muntasir of BRAC, about their Boat Schools Programme which brings education to underserved children in isolated areas submerged in water for six to seven months of the year. Creative and responsive programme design and delivery ensure that Boat Schools meet the needs of the communities they serve and deliver positive outcomes.

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