Two wheels good!

Well laden bicycles are a common feature on the roads of many countries. But in some they are put to educational use.

Well laden bicycles are a common feature on the roads of many countries. But in some they are put to educational use.

As someone who is a keen cyclist, I am seldom surprised when I hear of the accomplishments that can be achieved by individuals riding on two wheels. However, when these achievements impact positively upon the educational experiences of children I am always pleased to read reports from the press or hear about these from colleagues.

I recall a couple of years ago hearing an interesting presentation given by two members of the academic staff from the Faculty of Education at the University of West of England in Bristol, at which they described the support provided in the development of a library in rural Zimbabwe. Through various donations and fund raising events, these colleagues have regularly sent shipments of books to the country where volunteers have catalogued them and organised a library for the benefit of local people. Amongst the thousands of volumes that have crossed from the UK to Africa are many children’s books that are being used by both schools and individual children.

There is a challenge in rural Zimbabwe with regards to accessing a library, so this intrepid team have come up with an innovative solution. By providing a bicycle and panniers to the library, they have ensured that books can be delivered on a regular basis to outlying schools. A volunteer simply loads the panniers with books requested by children or schools, cycles to the venue and exchanges these for those delivered on a previous occasion. The schools and children get their books, the library has satisfied customers, the volunteer gets some exercise and everyone benefits. What could be better?

I was reminded of this situation by an article in this week’s Times Educational Supplement written by Adi Bloom. This describes how a project managed by the Agastya Education Foundation is supporting government schools in eight Indian States. Fifty nine motorcycles have been equipped with mobile laboratories containing science experiments which teachers can use with their pupils. These motorcycles, ridden by skilled pilots are able to weave their way along tracks and rough roads to ensure that science is delivered to the doors of schools where facilities are generally very poor. This superb initiative has been shortlisted for a prize from the World Innovation Summit for Education. I hope that we may hear more about their successes in the coming months.

Both of these projects demonstrate the determination that individuals have, to ensure that children who live in difficult circumstances or remote locations gain access to meaningful education. Such schemes require co-ordination and dedication, but above all they are dependent upon individuals with imagination and the drive to start projects that may at first appear unusual. Without such people there would still be children in Zimbabwe with very little access to books, and others in India unable to conduct the kind of experiments that may enthuse the next generation of scientists.

The next time  I am on my bicycle pedalling around the lanes of Northamptonshire, I will think of those committed librarians who are delivering knowledge and enthusiasm to children in remote schools. I have never had a two wheeled vehicle powered by an engine, far preferring to use my own legs to propel me forwards (even if rather slowly these days!)but I will similarly reflect upon the potential for scientific development in rural India being supported through the Agastya Education Foundation. Children are being included in learning as a result of the actions taken in these two countries. Those creative individuals who have developed these schemes provide a lesson to all of us by demonstrating that many obstacles can be overcome with determination and in these instances – the help of two wheels!


More than simply getting on with the job.

I wonder what is going through the mind of this father as he returns his children to school?

I wonder what is going through the mind of this father as he returns his children to school?

Two news stories today have given me cause to reflect upon and celebrate the dedication of teachers. Yet both also present tales of terrible tribulation and could provoke a feeling of despair. However it must be said that despite great adversity, the professionalism of some teachers shines through.

The well respected Pakistan daily newspaper Dawn, today carried an article written by Syed Ali Shah with the headline A dismal state of education in Balochistan (1st June 2015). Balochistan is Pakistan’s biggest province covering more than 40% of the country’s land area. Its provincial capital Quetta is the largest city in the region where the University of Balochistan is located, with an Institute of Education and Research which has a proud history of training teachers. Despite this apparent commitment to education, the Balochistan government has recently declared an education emergency in the province.

It is reported that there are more than 7,000 single room schools in the province, each with a single teacher attempting to address the needs of children across a wide age range. The dropout rate from schools is high and two out of every three girls in Balochistan never have an opportunity to attend school. Teaching conditions are clearly less than adequate, and teachers are struggling with minimal resources and a lack of clear policy direction.

A separate news item, covered by several sources including the Guardian and Reuters news agency describe how children are returning to school following the devastating earthquakes in Nepal. In some areas of Kathmandu and other districts parents and volunteers have built wooden makeshift classrooms, and elsewhere have erected tents in order that children can gain some shelter and return to some semblance of normal education. Parents and children have expressed their joy that schools, even those in temporary accommodation, are once again opening their doors, however, many have also stated their apprehension about separation of children from parents, even for the short duration of a school day.

One eleven year old girl named Sabina told a reporter that:

It’s better to be in the school though I am scared of another earthquake.”

For those of us living in comfort it is difficult to fully appreciate the fears expressed by this girl.

These two news stories highlight the tragedy and trials of people living in desperate situations. It would be easy to see only negative features of the items that have caught the attention of the world’s press. However, I believe that there is another aspect of these situations which we could easily miss.

Teachers who are working in the dire school conditions in Balochistan, and those who are attempting to rebuild educational provision in Nepal are showing a dedication to their task which could easily be overlooked. They will attend their schools each day with minimal resources, and with little knowledge of what the future holds, but with a commitment to ensure that their pupils are provided with opportunities to learn. It has often been said in my own country that the school is at the heart of a community. It is at schools that lifelong friendships  begin. They are places where children develop a passion for sports or art or music, and where hopefully they are enabled to learn the skills, knowledge and understanding that will equip them for the rest of their lives.

Those teachers in Nepal and Balochistan who went to their classrooms this morning have received relatively little mention in the news items highlighted in this blog. It is almost taken for granted that they will continue to provide the service that is expected of teachers in far easier situations. I am sure that they too, just like their students, have apprehensions with regards to their safety and the ways in which they will teach in far from adequate conditions. I am equally sure that they will continue to demonstrate the professional integrity which ensures that they will continue to focus upon the needs of their students.