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Unusual Schools

Although the United Nations classifies education as a human right belonging to every child, around 100 million children around the world face barriers, sometimes seemingly insurmountable ones, that keep them from going to school. Environmental problems like climate change, storms, floods, natural disasters and energy shortages make the job of educating the poor a difficult one in many areas of the world.

Fortunately schools are not limited to rows of desks, stacks of textbooks, and linoleum hallways. They can be caves, boats, or train platforms. Yes, there's a whole world of unusual schools out there!

Boat Schools, Bangladesh

Many children in rural areas of Bangladesh, particularly girls, do not have access to education. Due to tradition, boys are the first ones to be sent to school and girls can go to school only if the facility is not too far from home. Often, the nearest school is miles away and for girls this can represent an insurmountable challenge to their schooling. During the monsoon season many schools find themselves under water. Due to the climate change, the yearly floods have become worse and prolonged and children can now go for months without having classes.

The solution by non-profit Shidhulai was unusual, but simple and effective: If children can't go to school, the school in the form of boats should go to them.

Train Platform Schools, India

As a schoolteacher, Inderjit Khurana used to take the train to work. And each day, in the stations, she would come into contact with dozens of children who spent their days begging from train passengers rather than attending school. She learned that it was not a rare or isolated problem and that millions of children in India live on the streets.

Convinced that these children would never be able to escape their conditions of poverty and homelessness without education, and realizing that it would be impossible to enroll these children in school, Inderjit decided to create a model program for "taking the school to the most out-of-school children."

Khurana's "train platform schools" aim to provide a creative school atmosphere and equip children with the basic levels of education necessary to allow them to work productively, enjoy many of life's pleasures, and become positive contributors to their communities.

Cave School, China

Dongzhong was an elementary school located in Miao village, China's Guizhou province. The strange thing about this learning institution was that it was housed by a giant cave, carved inside a mountain over thousands of years, by wind, rain and earthquakes. There was a small structure put together by the locals, but children attended classes protected only by the cold walls of the cave.

Guizhou is one of the poorest provinces of China. Water and food shortages caused by desertification and drought have left the region regularly struggling to keep its people alive.

The lack of everything else needed to live has also translated to a lack of educational resources. For most children in the province, schooling is not an option.

With little to no support available from the government, the Miao people decided to take education into their own hands. Lacking resources to build, they decided to make one cave into their elementary school, aptly naming it Mid-Cave Primary School. Dongzhong was opened in 1984, employing 8 teachers to teach 186 students.

However, the ingenious plan was met with derision by Beijing, who recently ordered the school to be shut down. A government education spokesman said the school had to close because "China is not a society of cavemen".

Nomadic School, Siberia

In south-eastern Siberia, a nomadic group is trying to preserve their way of life. The traditional culture of the Evenk, who excel at reindeer herding, hunting and fishing, has been eroded through contact with Western civilization.

The authorities decided late in the 1960s that Evenk children should follow the normal school curriculum, even if this meant that for months at a time, year after year, the children had to attend state boarding schools far from their families and nomadic life.

For eight years, Alexandra Lavrillier, a brilliant French ethnologist, has been helping them to save their heritage by setting up a nomadic school that will give Evenk children the chance to receive a modern education while maintaining their ancestral traditions.

Lavrillier's nomad school has been up and running since the start of 2006, and was granted the status of "official experimental school", recognition that may pave the way for similar experiments elsewhere in Siberia.

School in the Clouds, China

Children living in the Gulu Village, a mountainous region in China's Sichuan Province, used to have to walk on foot along a very long and treacherous mountain path to get to Gulu Village Primary, a school hidden in the middle of the clouds.

The school's one lone teacher, Shen Qijun, had been laboring in love for 26 years. Shen came to the school when he was 18 years of age. Back then, the classrooms were built with mud, the rooftop leaked, the walls were cracked, and there was no restroom. A student had a bad fall and sustained injury while looking for a restroom. Shen gathered the villagers to help rebuild the school the old-fashioned way.

The new school, built from concrete, had five classrooms and a restroom. In front of the school, a basketball court was built with an abandoned blackboard and two wooden posts. Boys would play carefully with the basketball, not daring to shoot, otherwise they would have to spend half a day bringing the ball back from the foot of the mountain.

No one outside the village knew about this remote school until a newspaper report was published three years ago. Donations poured in after that to help the children settle in schools in the town below the mountain.

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