Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World, by Susan Hughes, is a wonderful book about schooling around the globe. Article 28 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that every child has the right to an education. 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. Sustainability is a way of building that satisfies the needs of people now while leaving enough resources for people in future years.
Through personal interviews and visits to dozens of countries, Hughes will introduce the reader to the teachers and students of some amazing schools. At the Evenk Nomadic School in Siberia, for example, Russia teaches about the Evenk language, culture, traditions, the local plant/animal life and the environment. Nomadic peoples live in many countries throughout the world. Many are indigenous peoples who continue to live traditional lifestyles passed down throughout the centuries. Many of the teachers are of Evenk descent. They travel by sledge from camp to camp bringing the school along with them. School is held inside tents where there are computers powered by generators.
In Bangladesh, a child’s education is limited by the heavy monsoon rains and extensive flooding. The vagaries of the climate make floods even greater due to the melting glaciers in the Himalaya Mountains. The runoff makes rivers swell. As a result, there is extensive damage to farms, schools and other structures.
To get around these limitations, as Off to Class chronicles, Mohammed Rezwan raised enough money to open a boat school. Boat school is a combination school bus and boat school. Each day, the boats stop at different villages along the shore to pick up students in the same grade. For three hours, students study math, reading, writing, English, Bengali, the environment and conservation. Each boat has enough electricity to run up to three or four computers, a printer, DVD player and a CD. Solar panels on the roofs supply ample electricity. The boats are connected to the internet by a wireless technology. Boats also stock small private libraries of books for the students.
For thousands of years, there has been a caste system in Nepal. The highest caste groups control most of the resources leaving little for the lowest caste groups like the Dalits or the untouchables. In 2007, the Nepalese government created a new constitution promising a free education to every child. The promise has been hard to fulfill and there are still many children without a school. After several years, a group called the Shree Santi School Project started construction of a school in 2008. In several months, the school opened its doors with 5 classrooms and a library. At first, only kindergarten and the first grade were offered. Now, a second grade has been added.
Overall, Susan Hughes has done an amazing job of conveying the extreme hurdles children face throughout many parts of the world. The presentation takes the reader through communities in Canada, the USA, Haiti, Honduras, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Russia, Nepal , India, Cambodia, China and New Caledonia, to mention just a few of the places. Educators have accomplished herculean tasks in order to educate the poor in many areas under extreme weather conditions and continuing natural disasters. New technologies like solar energy have helped in accomplishing this difficult task.