Education is without a doubt a pre-cursor to success for our kids, and that of course means that we need to rely on schools, or even home schooling, to make sure our kids are ready for the big outside world and all the challenges life will throw at them along the way.
In a lot of countries around the world, it really isn’t as simple as that and we’ve found 10 of the most unusual schools in the world. They are mind-blowing when you consider what has been done with so little in many instances, or even how creative and innovative people have been; all in the quest of a good education for all.
Going to School in the Amazon
Just the mere thought of educating kids in the Amazon jungle boggles the mind; with no infrastructure besides the river, how on earth do kids go to school? A challenge to say the least.
But as they say, where there is a will there is a way and there are a number of initiatives underway to give these kids the best possible education where the landscape fights against a normal schooling system.
Firstly, there is a new diamond in the rough in for the form of the J.W. Marriott Jr School which is part of the Juma Sustainable Development Reserve. The project is run by the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation in coordination with the state government and funded by major corporations.
Kids from Primavera can now attend a gleaming state school for sixth graders, which will expand later on, just a few minutes up the river. And boat transportation is provided for free.
How unusual is this? Boats pick up students from river communities at the beginning of the week, and bring them back at the end of the week. They pay absolutely nothing; sleep in attractive wood barracks that look a bit like an eco-lodge and teachers live in the cabin next door. They also eat three good meals a day. Kids attend class for one week of every two, for about eight hours a day when they’re there. The students work in groups and they get homework for their week off which they need to do and it involves research in their local communities, which is really cool. As there are so many adults who never finished grade school, there is a separate class for these people on the week that the kids aren’t there.
But one school isn’t going to do the job for all, so the other unusual schooling system comes from satellite-powered schools, officially known as ‘Teacher-Present High School With Technological Mediation.’ This title distinguishes it from distance learning as it’s different. There are apparently around 1,300 video classrooms scattered across the states with teachers who take virtual ‘classes’.
Another amazing and unusual school was created and opened by the Paiter-Surui tribe.
The Paiter-Surui Cultural Training Center opened in June 2013 and they aim to offer technical and professional courses to the tribe and other indigenous groups. What makes it so unusual? Well their focus is on environmental preservation. The reason for this is that they’ve struggled since first coming into contact with outsiders in 1969 where road construction invaded their land. They went from a population of 5,000 to just 290! And recently they’ve had to respond to threats of mining and illegal logging on their territory. Their chief Almir Surui has led the project and this tribe has gained international attention for their amazing and visionary 50 year management plan for the sustainable development of their people and natural resources. They are planning to sell carbon credits where deforestation has been avoided, and this money will then be put back into the community. They are the first indigenous group to get certification for a carbon project. Quite amazing how a tribe have pulled together their resources to create something truly unique that gives back to the environment and their community. This one gets full marks from us.
The Northernmost School in the World
Can you imagine going to a school which is the northernmost school in world? It would literally be like going to school in a freezer!
There’s an incredibly unusual school called Longyearbyen School in Alaska which is in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, set between the North Pole and the northern coast of the country it belongs to, Norway. There are only 1,982 people that live in this town. Read on to find out why school life is so different here.
So you arrive at school, dressed up looking like you’re going to pop as it’s so cold and as you walk up to the school you cross paths with a wild reindeer. Hmmm, interesting. But this is part of these kids’ everyday lives and as the reindeers walk in and out of the school grounds every day, no one pays them any attention. Inside you could be surprised as you come across some stuffed seals and reindeers.
The school is home to 230 learners between the ages of 6 and 18. Now if you think reindeers and stuffed animals are unusual, you could be surprised to know that the school has several rifles…yes you read correctly. But these are actually used to protect themselves against roaming polar bears. Teachers arm themselves with rifles if they go on outings in the mountains to keep safe. Unbelievable. Teachers take kids on classes that are outside and will shoot a reindeer as the kids watch on. They then have a live biology lesson as they learn to cut the reindeer and see what’s inside. Wow.
Students even go on survival courses, where they learn how to survive and behave in nature, what to do if you come across a polar bear and how to survive the winter outdoors, like finding a safe place to camp out or how to deal with avalanches. This is practical life lessons at their best.
Surprisingly, none of the kids at the school are natives and they come from diverse backgrounds. In fact 13 nations are represented.
So life in a school like this could be rather interesting as you chat with wild reindeers, say hello to stuffed animals, fight off polar bears or go out with your teacher to kill a reindeer.
A School Without Walls
The Ørestad Gymnasium School in Copenhagen, Denmark is really quite unusual for a number of reasons! They are very well-known for the incredibly progressive design of the school; they also try and push new ways of learning and believe that open study environments are better than normal classrooms, so no school walls here. So imagine this, you walk in and see kids sprawling on giant beanbags in a floating circular loft space while debating some or other subject matter. Who would have thought?
They push the boundaries when it comes to teaching and learning, and this was the major focus when the building was designed. The building is organised around a central staircase and atrium and there are boomerang-shaped floor plates that spin and shift like a camera shutter to create four distinct learning zones. The way these floor plates rotate gives the building a sense of being infinite which fits into the transparency of the building. The design focuses on how teenagers think, learn and socialise and through these open areas allows for collaborative learning. This makes our list for unusual schools not just for design for their approach to the learning process; it is very forward thinking.
A Cultural Cambodian School
Sra Pou Vocational School in Cambodia was built with the specific goal of representing a non-Western culture and to consider the local communities that will be taught here. The training centre is right in the middle of one of the most underprivileged communities in Cambodia where families have been evicted from their homes in the city to the countryside.
The purpose of this vocational school is to teach these poor families how to earn their own living and create sustainable businesses.
There is very little infrastructure in this community and the whole aim when creating this school was to teach people how to utilise materials that are easily available, and giving them the techniques to be able to build their own houses. Very awesome indeed. The entire school is hand-made; no machines or manufactured parts were used. Of course the project employed loads of people from the community.
The reason that this has made our list as one of the most unusual schools is the very fact that they’ve created this space that was built by local community members from hand-dried blocks of soil and it is a colourful and inspiring space that you certainly won’t find in any other impoverished area.
A Safe Haven for Kids in Afghanistan
The Maria Grazia Cutuli School was established to honour the life of Maria Grazia Cutuli who was a prominent Italian journalist who was killed on assignment in Afghanistan. The school is built like a small walled village giving the kids everything they need. It’s a very vibrant school, which was painted in bright blue to reflect the lapis lazuli which is found in the area. This type of building is unusual based on all the reconstruction that was done after the war. There are eight classrooms which centre on an interior courtyard, which doubles up as an outdoor classroom. There’s an awesome garden, which not only gives loads of colour but helps kids learn about agriculture and sustainable farming, to help them enter the world with practical skills. Why has it made our most awesome list? Well it’s a safe haven that has been built that gives these kids the best and most stimulating learning experience in a rural area.
A School in the Clouds
A school in the clouds? Surely not! Well it’s not what you think, but this is highly innovative and very well worth making it into our top 10 unusual schools!
Well the ‘School in the Clouds’ is the brain child of Sugata Mitra who won a TED Prize for this unique learning opportunity. What’s it all about? Well it is literally an online learning environment which is built on the ethos of ‘don’t intervene’ and let children discover stuff by themselves. What he’s done is set up ‘labs’ that have computers where kids go to learn and discover, or basically teach themselves.
At each of these learning labs, kids explore questions that matter to them and unbelievably they have drop in ‘Grannies’ who chat to them over Skype and give them some encouragement. These ‘Grannies’ are all volunteers and they’re there to help learning happen.
The idea focuses on self-organised learning, where kids teach themselves in a way, with a facilitator, but they explore and discover which sparks their creativity and imaginations. They make mistakes, can take ages to figure out how to use a computer, but they eventually get there by themselves and some encouragement from ‘Granny’. There are now schools in the UK and India with more set to open. A truly innovative approach to learning which is centred around a global online platform. Amazing.
A School in a Boat
Can you even begin to imagine sending your child to school on a boat? Drop them off at the river and off they go. Sounds completely crazy, but it’s not and a Boat School has actually been developed in Bangladesh. Basically, students didn’t really have access to education in their regions. Thousands of schools have been wiped out due to severe flooding from monsoons as well as climate change causing glaciers to melt in the Himalayan Mountains. So what do you do when there are no schools and no funding to build new ones? Well you get a good old fashioned boat, kit it out with some learning gear, and invite your students aboard. This is exactly what architect Mohammed Rezwan did. He made boat schools. How unique is that?
For 3 hours a day, kids get on the boat and they have lessons in math, reading, writing, English, Bengali and conservation. Even more innovative, solar panels have been installed on the boats to provide electricity for the internet and a DVD player. Each boat is also well stocked with books.
10 out of 10 for this idea, and there’s no doubt that this is one of the most innovative solutions to a schooling issue.
Train Platform Schools
Yes you read correctly. There are actually schools on train platforms in India. Unbelievable but true.
Inderjit Khurana, a school teacher, used to take the train to work every day and was astonished at the amount of kids begging on the train platforms. They had no access to education and this is what they did all day every day. She soon came to realise that there were loads of kids literally living on the streets. She knew that without a good education there was no way that these kids were going to escape an impoverished life.
So another genius in education came up with the idea of taking the school to the ‘most out-of-school children’.
So each day, Inderjit teaches children on train platforms with the aim of giving them a basic education that will allow them to enter society as well-rounded and educated individuals. Amazingly unusual, it’s not hard to see how this school made our list.
A School around a Tree
The Ring Around a Tree Kindergarten in Fuji is something completely and utterly unique.
This is a small contribution to a historical space. The school is centred around a Zelkova tree that nearly died 50 years ago as it was blown over by a typhoon. The tree not only survived but it has grown rather large too. The trunk is perfect for young climbers. There used to be a tree house, so only the very small could enter and on nice days classes were held outside.
Each May, the greenery surrounds the building. The oval-shaped plan of the school traces the shape of the tree which makes the columns and floors almost seem like they’re vanishing in the shadows. Some of the branches actually are inside the school and grown-ups have to crawl when they’re heading up to the roof. Fun for adults and kids!
The building is five metres tall with seven levels, with clearances from 600mm to 1500mm. Somewhat of a challenge at times. The ceilings are low for a reason; for kids touching the ceiling with their hands is like the sky and lowering the ceiling to their level is like being a giant adult. How awesome is that?
So why did this make it into our unusual list? It’s a school, playground and tree house all in one. This is like a kids dream come true.
A Mountain School in the Clouds
We’ve covered the School in the Clouds earlier on, but this is a different school in the clouds, that is literally so high up that it is hidden in the clouds.
Kids living in the Gulu village, a mountainous region in China, had a tough and treacherous walk up a very mountainous and dangerous path to the Gulu Village Primary School that was hidden in the clouds.
The schools one teacher, Shen Qijun has been teaching there for an amazing 26 years out of sheer determination to give these kids an education. Many years ago the classrooms were made of mud, the roof leaked, the walls were cracked and there was no restroom. Can you just imagine? One child had a bad fall while he was out looking for a restroom, so Shen got the local villagers together to help rebuild the school. The new school was built with concrete, had five classrooms, and hooray a restroom. There was also a basketball court built from an abandoned blackboard, but as you can imagine, they kids had to be very careful to not lose their ball to the mountain!
Absolutely no one outside the village knew about this school until a newspaper covered the story. Since then donations have been pouring in to help get this school in the clouds down on the ground!
Worth a mention A School in a Cave
The reason that this hasn’t made it into the top 10 is that unfortunately the Dongzhong Cave School in China was closed down by the government in 2011, because, in their words, the country “is not a society of cavemen.” It’s a pity as this was located in one of the poorest areas of China and it was established to provide an education for kids who wouldn’t have gone to school at all. As the villagers had no resources to build a school, they literally set up camp in a cave and worked with what they had. Very resourceful and unusual! It’s a pity it’s not around today to help these kids.