In south-western areas of Bangladesh, many schools become water-logged each year, particularly in places where the land is divided by earthen embankments which can prevent tidal or rain water from receding. Protracted periods of flooding cause many schools to close, leaving children to cope with regular gaps in their education.
Schools attempt to find creative ways to deal with the months when buildings are water-logged. Some conduct lessons outside or organise classes in homes or other shelters. Speaking to the news agency IRIN, one teacher at a secondary school said that classes are held “on the roof of the building” until the water level becomes too high for pupils to reach the school and then he tries to take his lessons to places which can be accessed by boat or bamboo bridges. However teachers admit that such ad hoc activities do not make up for a school which cannot remain open for the full year.
School attendance drops
According to the UN’s child agency, UNICEF, in one of the most vulnerable sub-districts of the Satkhira District, nearly a quarter of schools have been submerged by water this year. A UNICEF spokesperson said that the resulting breaks in the school year contribute to “increasing dropout rates and decreasing chances of children completing the full primary school cycle”.
One primary school is water-logged for at least six months each year and the head reports that pupil attendance drops by half during this period. Parents are naturally concerned about the dangers of children drowning and prefer to keep their children at home. Even when pupils are able to return, school buildings are often in a poor state of repair after flooding. Other schools are forced to close during periods of flooding because their buildings become a shelter for members of the community when homes are affected.
A spokesperson for the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) said that the key to this problem for the region was “good planning for disaster risk reduction”. But for the teachers and heads doing their best with the limited resources they have, this message may be of cold comfort.