What do you picture when you see children traveling to school? A yellow bus full of rowdy children? Siblings carpooling in a minivan? Maybe a group of friends riding their bikes to school? In the United States, these are all common ways for students to get to school. However, in less developed countries, transportation to school is much more complicated.
Like most issues in developing countries, poverty is the root of inadequate infrastructure. Poorer nations cannot afford to build accessible bridges, roads, or even safe walking paths for children to get to school. Even if proper roads and bridges do exist in these countries, it is rare for families to be financially stable enough to own and maintain their own personal vehicles. Some families are also forced to live in more secluded areas for financial or occupational reasons, putting them far away from the nearest school.
In developing countries, it is commonplace for children to walk hours to get to their schoolhouses, and they often travel through difficult and dangerous terrain. Simple and designated walking paths are not commonplace:
· Students travel along mountains sides with hundred-foot drops, climb cliffs, and even wade through rivers or lakes.
· Some Saudi Arabian students need to climb concrete steps on the side of a mountain to get to their classrooms.
· In the Philippines, children use makeshift rafts to cross rivers on their way to school. In the Rizal province near Manila, inflated tire tubes are used to cross a river on the way to school.
Sometimes an area does have adequate routes that allow children to get to safely, but due to flooding and other extreme weather conditions, pathways often become submerged in water and bridges are destroyed. In South Sulawesi, Indonesia, children walk on tightropes to cross a river to get to school after a flood washed away their village’s bridge. Some students have the ability to use mounts as travel, riding in carts pulled my horses or mules, or even on the backs of camels.
When motorized transportation to school is available, it usually involves children piling on the back of rickshaws and trucks, precariously holding on and risking their own safety. In Mae Sot, Thailand, children are driven to school by their teacher in a somlot, or motorcycle rickshaw, to get to school. One of the most famous (or infamous) methods of school travel is via zipline. In Colombia, some students use a zipline over 1,000 feet above the Rio Negro River, reaching speeds up to 40mph.
The various methods that children use to travel have been well documented over the last few years, drawing the attention of local governments and encouraging them to make changes. In the Sichuan Province of China, students were photographed climbing up rickety wooden ladders to get to school. After the pictures went viral, the Chinese government funded the construction metal ladders attached to the mountainside.
When it comes to improving education around the world, attention and focus is often placed on changing cultural practices or improving factors inside the classroom. This means that issues involving children’s ability to attend are overlooked. Transportation directly correlates to the lack of attendance for students in developing countries. The routes that students need to take often discourages parents from letting their children attend school for fear of serious injury or death. The long commutes are also a major deterrent. Lengthy travel for children leaves more of a possibility for kidnappings or assaults, as well as takes time away from any work that needs to be done at home.
Inadequate transportation or travel routes deter teachers from attending school as well, leading to prolonged school closures due to a shortage of teachers. Some developing countries have managed to build accessible primary schools near residential areas. However, secondary schools tend to be scarcer and more spread out, discouraging children from continuing their education.
So, what needs to be done?
Major improvements in infrastructure and transportation need to be prioritized when it comes to education reform. Here at the Fortitude Global Foundation, we understand the need for accessible schools. We will work with developing countries and relevant organizations to help improve infrastructure in rural areas, fund safe and efficient forms of public transportation, and build both primary and secondary schools closer to families.
Before improving classroom conditions, we need to make sure students can get to the classroom.