The Sundarbans mangrove forest, one of the largest such forests in the world, lies on the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers on the Bay of Bengal. Being the largest river delta in the world, the Sundarbans is an archipelago of islands located in the Bay of Bengal and divided between India and Bangladesh. It is home to roughly 4.5 million people that are affected by storms, cyclones and other environmental disasters. In 2011, the literacy rate of the people in the Sundarbans was 25.71% compared to West Bengal’s 76.26%. Several organizations are dedicating themselves to innovative efforts to improving education in the Sundarbans.
Keeping Children in School
The Sundarbans islanders are dependent on fishing, agriculture and the cottage industry for their income. The location of the islands, their dwindling mangrove population, breached shoreline and similarly breached tiger territories have pushed children out of school. The unique climatic and environmental situation on the islands has made innovation key in improving education in the Sundarbans. Fortunately, many organizations have found ways to bring the school closer and made it more appealing to stay in school.
School in The Cloud
The ‘School in The Cloud’ is an independent learning lab that uses solar power. The school uses a 40-foot bamboo tower receiver for its internet connectivity in the Sundarbans. It is the brainchild of Dr. Sugata Mitra of Newcastle University. He wanted to integrate Self Organized Learning Environment (SOLE) in order to improve education in the Sundarbans. Leadership specifically designed these learning hubs for children who are below the poverty line and thus lack access to unrestrained holistic education. The school focuses on the reading, speaking and comprehension skills of the children. This innovative institution receives funding from the TED prize money worth $1 million that Professor Mitra received.
Sabuj Sangha & Kishalay
Biplab Das, a Sundarbans native with an MBA, founded the Kishalay Foundation. The Kishalay Foundation focuses on the improvement of education for the Sundarbans’ underprivileged children. The foundation is affiliated with the government of West Bengal and serves as a learning hub for children at various levels of their education.
Sabuj Sangha works with Kishalay in its mission to retain children who have dropped out of school. Its innovative “preparatory centers” are key in rehabilitating children back into formal education. It accomplishes this by educating children informally for a year to help aid their transition. So far, the centers have successfully rehabilitated 700 children into formal education with the help of unemployed graduate teachers. The support of many donors, including the Tata group and Pepe Jeans, sustains this multi-faceted effort. The Smile Foundation is also affiliated to amplify the efforts of Sabuj Sangha and Kishalay in improving education in the Sundarbans.
The Sundarbans, through the work of its islanders and supporting organizations, can become a resourceful community for children to grow. Developing communities such as the islands of Sundarbans benefit from continued initiatives and foundational innovations. Moving forward, the work of nonprofits and educational leaders will drive community-informed and community-focused holistic development in the Sundarbans.
– Anuja Mukherjee