As Hurricane Sandy continues to disrupt the northeast, schools up and down the coast are still closed due to what is being described as a once-in-a-generation storm causing unprecedented levels of flooding.
In Bangladesh, rural and low-income areas of the country are flooded every year, during the south Asian country’s brutal monsoon season, which is growing harsher due to effects of climate change. Flooding there upends entire villages, creating large populations of “climate refugees” and preventing thousands of children from attending their local schools. Coincidentally, Tony Jackson, the vice president of education for the Asia Society, and author of edweek.org’s Global Learning blog, posted this week an inspiring and innovative example of how to overcome natural disaster.
Jackson points to a new documentary on Mohammed Rezwan, an architect in Bangladesh who invented the “floating schools,” solar-powered classrooms built on boats that provide year-round primary education. The wooden schools travel down the rivers created by monsoons directly to the isolated children.
“If the children cannot go to school, then the school should come to them,” Rezwan, who founded the nonprofit Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, says in the film’s trailer, which you can watch above. The documentary, “Easy Like Water,” is directed by Glenn Baker, a Washington-based filmmaker, and runs about an hour-long. It is currently in post-production and being shopped around for distribution.
In the film’s trailer, you’ll see more harrowing images of how nature can take its tool on a country that Rezwan describes as “ground zero for climate change” because of its low elevation, monsoons, and proximity to melting glaciers in the Himalayas. It is estimated the country of 150 million people could lose 20 percent of its land by 2030, though its carbon footprint is very small.
Because they are solar-powered, classrooms are issued Internet-connected laptops to use with instruction, so students can have access to technology despite living in areas that often don’t have electricity. In the film, Rezwan says the larger versions of his floating schools cost about $25,000 each to build and upwards of 25 students can be seen sitting in rows of desks and under a canopy. There are about 90 floating schools up and running in Bangladesh; Rezwan estimated that about 330 Bangladeshi schools are destroyed by flooding every year.
Rezwan created the floating schools about a decade ago and received international attention, including funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, according to a 2007 Washington Post article. Rezwan is also featured in a new book by Susan Hughes, called Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World. In September, the World Innovation Summit for Education awarded Rezwan one of six “Transforming Education” prizes, including distinction for “innovative financing.” Rezwan says in the film he hopes to create floating health care clinics, floating gardens, and eventually entire floating villages for these vulnerable populations.
The schools have had a particularly large impact on girls, for whom it’s considered unsafe to travel to school alone during monsoon season, Baker said in an interview with the Asia Society’s Tahiat Mahboob.
“This is convincing many parents of girls to allow them to attend, when in the past they frowned on their daughters going to school because of the distance,” he said. “This has a snowball effect, so as more girls attend school, making it appear normal and natural, more parents are open to the idea.”
The trailer for the documentary is above, and you can watch a couple scenes from the film below. Maybe they can inspire those of you still affected by the storm.