BRAC Boat Schools
What are BRAC Boat Schools?
Sakhwat Hosain, Senior Manager, BRAC Education Program
Northeast Bangladesh is a unique geophysical area composed of a patchwork of wetland habitats. During the wet season, monsoon rains regularly flood the region, submerging most of the area for more than half the year. Communities living on small settlement islands become isolated, such that both students and teachers find it difficult to get to school. This leads to social inequality and economic deprivation.
The government and development organisations have struggled to establish permanent education facilities in this remote region. The permanent schools that are built are often miles away from the most remote communities and can only be accessed by boat for half the year, making them difficult and expensive to attend, especially for the poorest families.
Many parents are reluctant to send their children on such long journeys. One in five children in the region have no access to transportation, even in the dry season. In 2012, just 41% of children were literate. School dropout rates in the area are high. As a whole, the region lags behind the rest of Bangladesh in terms of development.
BRAC aims to bring education to disadvantaged children left out of the formal system due to extreme poverty, violence, displacement or discrimination. Whilst BRAC did not create the first Boat School in the world they developed their own version of a Boat School, addressing a local problem with a local solution using their methodology of bringing a holistic, comprehensive, and inclusive approach to education in this circumstance.
Each BRAC Boat School can accommodate 30 children, at least half of whom will be girls. They use a one-teacher-one-school approach and recruit a local female teacher to guide the same cohort of students through the full primary education cycle. Drawing teachers from the same communities as the students creates a stronger bond between them, enhancing the level of interaction and learning inside and outside the classroom. Communication with students and parents on such a regular basis results in an organic environment that nurtures growth.
The foundation of pedagogy within their custom-built Boat School is BRAC's non-formal primary school model (NFP), which converts a five-year model to a four while still providing a similar or higher pass rate than the national average, and specifically accommodates the needs of students who have previously dropped-out or otherwise not had access to a government education.
BRAC began implementing its NFP model in 1985, and it has since been replicated by other NGOs within Bangladesh.
Young people on BRAC Boat Schools use customized textsbooks, for students in grades one to three, ensure the same high quality as the nationally-prescribed textbooks, but present information in a manner that accommodates our students' particular barriers. (In grade four, students are gradually transitioned to the national textbooks.)
The boats also act as school buses so that the children can access education year-round. This removes the cost, time and safety barriers faced by poor parents in transporting their children to school. During the dry season, BRAC anchors the Boat Schools at locations that are convenient for all the students. All Boat Schools are equipped with toilets, hand-washing facilities and safe drinking water.
Today, more than 14,500 students are enrolled in 507 BRAC Boat Schools across Bangledesh and the Philippines.