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An Interview Series with Today’s Leading Thinkers and Innovators in Education

The following series has been produced by the Skoll World Forum with the participation of today’s leading thinkers and innovators in education.  All of the contributors represent projects that have won WISE Awards, which recognize innovative solutions in overcoming barriers to education. This series aims to shed light on those projects that have helped provide access to quality education around the world. WISE brings together the world’s education innovators through an annual Summit, and several ongoing initiatives including the six annual WISE Awards --for innovative projects-- and the WISE Prize for Education, the only global distinction recognizing a world-class contribution to education by an individual or a team. The Prize, presented at the WISE Summit, includes a gold medal and a $500,000 (US) award.

 
 
 
 

Behind the Floating School in Bangladesh

Behind the Floating School in Bangladesh

February 10, 2014 | 1623 views

 

What was the one moment or experience that ultimately gave rise to Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha?

As a native of a flood-prone community I saw first-hand the hardship of riverside communities who have restricted access to education and the opportunities it affords. With roads impassable during the monsoon season (July to October), students are unable go to school leading to a high number of dropouts in the flood-prone regions. Although our family owned a small boat that ensured my travel to school during the monsoon season I saw many of my friends and relatives could not go, something found difficult to accept. I thought that if the children cannot come to the school for lack of proper transportation, then the school should go to them, by boat.

As an architect, I struggled to find investors to back the idea of the floating school, but working as a social entrepreneur I founded the non-profit organization Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha in 1998. Shidhulai is the name of a village in Bangladesh, and Swanirvar Sangstha means self-reliant organization.

What would the world look like if you achieved your vision?

We want all children to have access to school and all rural students to continue their education throughout the year in flood-prone areas around the world. We want to see parents encourage their girls to go to school. We want to see the girls and women taking full advantage of the education and information facilities available in their community.

We want to see our resilient people working together to improve their quality of life and no longer living below the poverty line.

How is your organization reaching towards that goal, and what has been the impact of your efforts thus far?

Shidhulai’s solar-powered floating school ensures that education continues during the monsoon season. Boats provide maximum flexibility and reach villagers that, for logistical, social, or cultural reasons, cannot access a permanent institution.

Rural girls and women are taking full advantage of the education and information facilities delivered on their doorsteps. Combating the discrimination and unequal educational opportunities for women, the project encourages parents to send their girls to schools and pushes for female enrolment. The proximity of the school allays concerns of parents and guardians and access to education helps ensure that the rate of early marriage is reduced.

What were some of the barriers you’ve had to overcome–either personally or professionally–to be successful?

In 1998 I started the organization with an old computer and $500 of my own school scholarship money and savings. Despite having no experience with writing grant proposals, and using just the internet for guidance, I wrote emails and submitted proposals to hundreds of organizations that I thought could help.

There were frustrating times, but I kept working to raise funds to launch the first boat. With the local community, who were in every way involved in the project, I looked for cheap local materials and found riverside areas where some old boats go to die. From the wreckage, we collected an old boat hull finding for it a new life as a classroom on water.

It took four years before we were able to build the first floating school.

What kind of impact are you looking to have 5 or 10 years from now, and how do you plan to get there?

Our solar-powered floating school has been in existence now for over 10 years. It was only possible due to the community involvement, innovative approaches, and capacity building in the local villages. The principles and practicality that we were driven by our belief in what we were trying to accomplish. We want to do further research on our technologies, improve the designs and construction methods, local content, and reach another 100,000 people by introducing another 100 new boats within next 5 years.

Winning a WISE Award in 2012 has brought our project to the attention of educators around the world, and helped them to learn about how our community has adapted and innovated to bring education to some of the hardest to reach people. This has inspired other local communities to replicate our project and to innovate to overcome some of the world’s most difficult education barriers.

 
 
 

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