Books for Young Readers / 'Off to Class': Not all schools are in buildings

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"Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World" by Susan Hughes ($12.95; 64 pages).

Some days, making it to school probably seems like a big accomplishment. Maybe you overslept. Maybe the bus was late. Or maybe you forgot your lunch and had to go back home to get it. Those days are stressful, but it is hoped they don't happen very often.

But lots of kids around the world have much bigger problems stopping them from getting to school. Their school buildings have been destroyed by natural disasters. They have to earn money for their families, leaving no time for classes. The schools are hours from home and there's no bus to pick them up.

Author Susan Hughes found two dozen towns or villages that had big problems but came up with creative ways to educate their children. She told their stories in the book "Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World."

Bangladesh, a country in South Asia, is one place that stands out for Ms. Hughes, who lives in Toronto. Heavy rains often flood the Chalan Beel region, and many schools have been damaged or destroyed.

"These are kids who a lot of the time couldn't get to the schools," she said in an interview.

A local architect named Mohammed Rezwan had the idea to build school boats, floating classrooms that could pick up students close to home. Once the students are onboard, school starts. After three hours of lessons -- which include using solar-powered computers -- the group is dropped off and two more groups follow. The first school boat was launched in 2002; now there are about 90 boats in the area serving thousands of children.

The creative idea was especially helpful in getting girls into the classroom, Ms. Hughes said.

"A lot of the parents were more protective of the girls. They didn't want them to walk long distances," she said. "When the boats were picking them up ... it broke down that barrier."

In Bhubaneswar (pronounced Boo-ban-esh-waar), India, the barrier to learning was the need to earn money. Hundreds of kids hung out at the train station, trying to make money by selling whatever they could find.

"These are little kids, and they are working," Ms. Hughes said. "They're living on the train tracks. They're looking for garbage they can sell."

In 1985, teacher Inderjit Khurana noticed and decided she wanted to help. She started reading stories to the children on the train platform. Story time turned into once-a-week classes, and those classes became a school -- right at the train station. That first school for 11 children has grown into 12 schools for more than 6,000 students, according to Ms. Hughes' book. Classes begin after the morning rush hour and end with lunch. The children still have time to earn money by selling tea or polishing shoes.

"It's creative problem-solving," Ms. Hughes said. "Working within the culture to change things."

She hopes that kids will be inspired by the stories to help the estimated 61 million children ages 6 to 12 who the United Nations Children's Fund reports are not attending traditional schools.

"I think education for all is a goal that can be achieved," Ms. Hughes said. "When you see people doing it, you know it can be done."

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