Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Off To Class by Susan Hughes

When North American kids picture a school, odds are they see rows of desks, stacks of textbooks, and linoleum-tiled hallways. They probably don't picture boats, tents, or train platforms -- but there are schools on boats, and in tents, and on train platforms. There are green schools, mobile schools, and even tree house schools. There's a whole world of unusual schools out there! But the most amazing thing about these schools isn't their location or what they look like. It's that they provide a place for students who face some of the toughest environmental and cultural challenges, and live some of the most unique lifestyles, to learn. Education is not readily available for kids everywhere, and many communities are strapped for the resources that would make it easier for kids to go to school. In short, it's not always easy getting kids off to class -- but people around the world are finding creative ways to do it. In Off to Class, readers will travel to India, Burkina Faso, and Brazil; to Russia, China, Uganda, and a dozen other countries, to visit some of these incredible schools, and, through personal interviews conducted by author Susan Hughes, meet the students who attend them, too. And their stories aren't just inspiring; they'll also get you to think about school and the world in a whole new way.
Most children have gone to school traditional schools with classrooms and teachers, sitting in desks, working with textbooks and notebooks, and watching the clock on the wall for recess time. Being told you can't go to school because your parents can't afford it, or because you are a girl, or because it would take half a day to walk there would seem crazy to them. But what if you lived miles and miles away and had not bus or car to get you to school? What of your family needed you to work close to home in order to earn food for that night's dinner? What if hurricanes or floods destroyed your city and there was no school to go to? How would you learn? Who would teach you? This book shows how a school is possible, anywhere, for anyone, with dedication and an innovative mind.

While the schools are creative, unique and often amazing, it is the value of education that kids will learn about, not from their parents or teacher's lectures, but from other children who wan to go to school, dream of it and often started with little hope for the possibility of going to school. Created and founded by individuals who saw a need, most of these schools blend the needs and viewpoints of the region with a practicality and can-do attitude to make classrooms available for all.

Featuring unusual schools from around the world - from boats that are both school bus and classroom to a teacher holding class on a subway platform or in the streets where children fight to survive - Off To Class demonstrates how small groups, and often times individuals, have found ways to bring schools and learning to children who thought they could never afford or be allowed to learn. One school travels with the nomadic herders so that they don't have to leave their families for months, thus preserving their indigenous culture while incorporating modern technologies. Another is deep in the Amazon, 40 hours by boat, that runs on solar energy.
One of the Tent Schools in Haiti after the earthquake destroyed over 1400 schools.
Besides offering educational classes, it provided a community where children could begin to heal from the devastation.

image: Kena Betncur/Reuters

Villagers in Dongzhong, China ran a school out of a cave when electricity
and supplies  were unavailable to the remote mountain village.

Image: China Daily Information Corp-CDIC

This telescoping cart allows street educators to bring a school to the street kids in Columbia.
Mobile schools like this are now in many countries.

Image: Mobile School VZW

The School-on-Wheels buses not only transport kids to school, they act as classrooms,
stopping at specific locations and times to offer classes each day.

Image: Vijay Gondi

Subways platforms in India are flooded with kids trying to survive by living, begging and selling to commuters.
One woman set up classes on the platform between the morning and lunchtime rush and even includes job training.

Image: Ruchika Social Service Organization

Simply put, I love this book! This surprises me because I picked it up expecting to skim through it.  Thirty minutes later I found myself  closing the back cover and wondering what I have done with my life and why I am not taking a class this semester. The ingenuity is wonderful.  No building, set up a desk under a tree!  Students can't get to the school?  Take the school to the students. These students and the stories of their schools reminded me how valuable learning is and how lucky I am to live in a place where we  have schools in every neighbourhood and every child has a seat in one.  
Images taken from Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World by Susan Hughes.

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