Floating SchoolsFloating schools are exactly what their name suggests, they are schools floating on water, typically on a boat. They are essential to providing year-round education in regions where rainy seasons and flooding often disrupt the school year for the most vulnerable children. Floating schools have proved to be incredibly effective in providing an uninterrupted education in places like Bangladesh, Nigeria and Colombia where extreme weather often makes getting an education more difficult.


Bangladesh is located in the massive delta created by the Ganges, the Meghna and the Brahmaputra Rivers meaning that the majority of the country is below sea level. The monsoon season, from June to October, can leave up to two-thirds of the country under water. Naturally, this extreme flooding makes it impossible for children to get to school for a significant part of the year which can be very harmful to a developing mind.

Enter the nonprofit Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha and its 23 floating schools. The floating schools usually take the form of large boats and use solar panels to provide electricity and power computers. These schools bring the classroom to Bangladeshi children when they cannot get to it themselves. In addition to the school boats, Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha operates a flotilla of boats acting as libraries, adult education centers and solar workshops. In 2012, the organization won the U.N. Prize for Inspiring Environmental Action.


The neighborhood of Makoko in Lagos, Nigeria spans across the Lagos lagoon making the region at perpetual risk of flooding and waterlogging. Around 250,000 people live in Makoko in crude housing that often deteriorates because of heavy rains. These conditions make it especially difficult to give children in this community a consistent education. The Nigerian architect, Kunlé Adeyemi, in collaboration with the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the United Nations, designed and built Makoko’s prototype floating school. The school was three stories, used plastic drums to stay afloat and housed around 100 students.

Unfortunately in 2016, after the school had been decommissioned, the structure collapsed during heavy rains after what Adeyemi described as “three years of intensive use and exceptional service to the community.” The Makoko community and the international community alike welcomed the school. In 2014, the floating school was shortlisted for the design of the year award and an improved version of the school is already in the design process to replace the collapsed one.


In northern Colombia, in the town of Sempegua, the rainy season invariably brings flooding and disruption. Andres Uribe and Lina Catano, in partnership with the United Nations Development Fund and Colombia’s National Disaster Risk Management, constructed and inaugurated the first floating school in Latin America in 2014. The architects behind the project designed the school so that it could float during the rainy season and function on ground during the dry season, making it operative year-round. The schoolhouse can fit 60 children and around 400 underprivileged families will benefit from the floating structure. The school is also part of a loftier project that Uribe outlined, “and when we talk about floatable housing solutions, we are not just imagining schools, but houses, health centers, sports centers, or commercial zones, so the town can continue to be productive.”

These floating schools provide consistent access to education to children who otherwise would not be able to get to school on a regular basis, but also provide viable infrastructure solutions to places where persistent flooding has been disruptive for decades. Floating schools are just the beginning; the future leaders educated inside these schools are sure to continue developing the full potential of floating infrastructures for their communities.

– Isabel Fernandez

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Floating Schools: Providing an Education in India to Illiterate Adults
In February 2017, Loktak Lake, otherwise known as the “lifeline of Manipur,” became the first lake in India to offer a floating school to its community. Floating schools have been employed in high flooding areas in Bangladesh for the past 15 years.

Bangladesh suffers severe flooding every year due to heavy rainfall during monsoon season causing the overflow of the three massive rivers: the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna. The nonprofit Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, now responsible for providing floating education to 70,000 students, was founded in 1998. In 2002, Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha opened the first floating school to provide an education to children in affected areas.

Since then, more than 100 floating schools, libraries and health clinics have been set afloat in the most flood-affected countries, including Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nigeria, the Philippines, Vietnam and Zambia. As technology advanced, so did these schools. Many are now solar powered and provide internet access to students.

Loktak Lake is the largest freshwater lake in India and home to many islands and communities. For these communities, Loktak Lake provides fish as a livelihood for rural fisherman, is a source of hydropower generation, provides irrigation for farmers’ crops and provides drinking water.


Learn about Poverty in India


Floating islands, known as phumdis, were soil-rich fishing hot spots of the lake. However, water levels at Loktak Lake have been high for the last several years, causing the once soil-rich phumdis to begin to crumble and die. Residents of the phumdis were evacuated in attempts to preserve the natural habitat of the lake, ending the work routine of local fisherman and leaving many homeless. The community in crisis turned its focus to educating not only the youth in hopes of creating a better future for Manipur, but the homeless fisherman.

The All Loktak Lake Fisherman’s Union worked closely with the NGO People Resources Development Association to found the first floating elementary school in India that will focus on meeting the educational needs of local children and the adults rendered homeless by the evacuation of the phumdis.

The school has been inaugurated at Langolsabi Leikai of Champu Khangpok village and is currently serving 25 students with two teachers. Like with other floating schools, the People Resources Development Association hopes to see the school continue to grow, with goals of adding more classes to accommodate more students under the project “Empowering vulnerable local communities for sustainable development,” which is funded by Action Aid India.

Not only do floating schools provide year-round access to education for local students, but floating schools introduced in other high flood areas see remarkable results and growth in their local communities, such as increases in literacy rates and decreases in extreme poverty.

Furthermore, the introduction of technology is an important goal for the People Resources Development Association and the community. Locals hope the introduction of technology into the community will improve living conditions, which will increase the earning potential of the residents as a result. Access to technology will continue to inspire the next generation and provide them with useful tools and skills to help lift their community out of poverty.

Oinam Rajen Singh, a Manipur and Loktak Lake local, highlighted the need for education in his village, “As most of us are uneducated and mostly depend upon fishing as a meager source of income, we are unable to send our children to school to another place.” Singh has high hopes for the future of this floating elementary school and what it has to offer the community, “Based on [the] India government drive on free education to all, we will increase the class up to 8th standard so that opportunities are also given to the drop-out students.”

With rising sea and river levels, many communities are left without power or a means to receive an education, especially during monsoon season. These floating schools provide an opportunity and restore hope to impoverished communities.

– Kelilani Johnson

Photo: Flickr

Bangladesh’s Floating Schools Redefine Accessible Education
Since 2002, 70,000 children have benefited from Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha’s 20 solar-powered floating schools. Bangladesh, a nation plagued by incessant monsoons, often has a disrupted school year. During the rainy season, roads become impassable, closing upwards of 4,000 schools for months at a time.

Global warming is an omnipresent reality in Bangladesh, with climatologists projecting that one-fifth of the nation will be submerged by 2050. Geographically, Bangladesh is acutely sensitive to the effects of climate change, owing to the Bengal delta—the world’s largest glacial melting from the Himalayas—as it runs off into the rivers, raising the sea level, which in turn pushes inland.

Frustrated by the month-long interruptions during his childhood education, Mohammed Rezwan believed there was a more viable solution to Bangladesh’s education woes, so instead of avoiding the floods, he embraced them.

The concept was if children marooned by floods could not attend school, then the school should come to them. “Many friends and relatives were denied access to education,” Rezwan said. “I thought, if the children cannot come to school because of floods, then the school should go to them by boat.”

In 1998, Rezwan founded Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, a nonprofit centered on mobile, accessible education, with a mere $500. In 2002, he introduced his first school boat. Then, in 2003, donations started flooding in (pun intended).

From the United States, the Global Fund for Children donated $5,000, followed by $100,000 from the Levi Foundation and, finally, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation gave $1 million.

The funds enabled Rezwan to build more school boats. Noka, traditional Bangladeshi boats, cost $18,000 to modify into a proper school boat, with weatherproof window vanes, solar panels and arched metal beams. An additional $6,500 a year covers teachers’ salaries and overhead.

The boats are large: stretching 50-feet long and 15-feet wide. Each boat holds roughly 30 to 35 children or adults and is equipped with a laptop, library and other electronic resources. For many of Shidhulai’s students—particularly girls—the school boats are their only opportunity to access technology.

Shidhulai provides three classes, lasting two to three hours a day, six days a week, up to grade four. Students are taught the Bengali alphabet, along with essential life skills, such as how to purify water from contaminated sources. This relatively modest education is all many of these children will ever receive.

Adults attend classes too; their curriculum covers more practical matters. Topics range from proper use of insecticide to climate change adaptation to increasing crop yields—all essential skills in Bangladesh’s agricultural economy.

Shidhulai’s ultimate gesture of accessibility takes the form of portable lanterns given to each child, who can then study at night from home. The lanterns are low-cost and solar-powered, keeping with the renewable solar energy of the school boats.

The existential question facing Shidhulai is its financial sustainability. Critics claim that, while the school boats are an ingenious form of adaption, they are not sustainable, since solar power requires vast amounts of energy.

Undaunted, Rezwan aspires to open 100 more boats within the next five years, spreading his organization’s reach to roughly 100,000 people.

To boost Shidhulai’s viability, Rezwan plans to rebrand the solar lamps currently used as instructional tools and sell them as hurricane lamps.

“Building on that concept, we plan to sell hurricane lamps for around 500 taka ($7.30) each, and the villagers will have to pay 40 taka (about US $0.60) a month to recharge each lamp on our boats,” said Rezwan.

As roughly 78 million Bangladeshis currently go without electricity, relying instead on kerosene or fossil fuel for light, the market for Shidhulai’s solar lamps looks very bright indeed.

– Bilal Ibrahim

Sources: IRIN, WISE Initiative,, New York Times
Photo: BBC