April 07, 2017

15 of the most unusual schools in the world

Kerry Mullen

Online Picture Editor, Theirworld

Whether it’s alternative teaching techniques or bizarre locations, education can be very different around the world - as these pictures show.

Learning doesn’t have to be confined to a traditional classroom. It can take place anywhere in the world, including a boat, train and even in a bomb shelter.

There are some extraordinary school structures and unusual practices going on inside them.

Every child has the right to a good education - it helps them to fulfil their potential, keeps them safe, and reduces poverty and inequality.

But more than 260 million children and adolescents around the world are out of school. Millions more face daily challenges in their quest for education.

There are so many different kinds of schools - here's a look at 15 of the more unusual ones. You might wish your school had been more like some of them. But others will leave you amazed at what some children go through to get an education.

1. Bangladesh boat schools

Boat schools in Bangladesh allow children to continue with their education during floods

Bangladesh has limited natural resources and is strongly impacted by climate change. This makes it very difficult for children to access regular education. But the people in some parts of Bangladesh have learned to work with what they have by delivering classes to children on boats. This innovative way of learning means children from isolated waterside communities can have access to libraries and other learning facilities.

2. Five-hour trek into the mountains

The path Gulu Elembtary is only inches wide at some points

The commute to the isolated Gulu Elementary School in the canyons of Hanyuan County of Ya’an in China's Sichuan Province takes five hours. The exhausting journey involves trekking up a mountain along a dangerously narrow trail. After witnessing this perilous walk to school, you’ll never complain about your commute again.

3. A classroom with a view  

The incredible River Plate venue makes for a dynamic learning experience

Imagine attending a school that doubles up as a world-class football stadium. Over 2000 school children in Argentina take most of their classes in this amazing venue - River Plate's ground in Buenos Aries. Sometimes lessons even finish early as classes and football practice take place simultaneously.

4. Underground school

This is the only bit of this school that's above ground

This American school was unique in that it doubled as a fallout shelter during the Cold War. Abo Elementary in New Mexico is entirely underground and its roof served as a playground for children. The nuclear-fallout protections were invisible to the kids and many of them didn’t even know that their school was built to double as a bomb shelter.

5. The school in a cube

Orestad offers a relaxing environment for students

With one giant classroom for 358 high school students, you would expect Orestad Gymnasium in Denmark to feel a little crowded. But, the wide-open settings with giant "drums" and huge pillows create a more relaxed learning environment.

6. Train platform schools

Children attend school on train platforms across India

These schools across India help marginalised children get an education. Classes take place at train stops and help students who don’t have access to schooling due to financial constraints. So far these schools have offered education to over 4000 children.

7. School of the Future

The paperless school encourages children to learn with digital technology

This is the school where many future pioneers in the field of technology will soon be graduating from. The Microsoft-designed School of the Future in Philadelphia accommodates students from diverse backgrounds. Those who are selected needn't worry about books as learning at this school is completely digital. Teachers use computerised smart boards instead of traditional blackboards.

8. Forest kindergartens

Forest schools take children outdoors for classes

Photo credit: Kindergarten Forest Hill

These outdoor preschools are seen throughout Europe and encourage children to interact with their surroundings. Students get in touch with nature and build things using materials found in the forest. Regular play opportunities and an all-natural setting support experiential learning.

9. Students make the rules

There is no curriculum at Brooklyn Free School in New York. Students can choose any class they want and are allowed to stay away from school if they don’t feel like attending. Children make the school rules. Some might decide to be alone and carry out independent studies, which could last years. Others might decide to play, wander around or just nap. There are no tests, homework or grades.

10. The cave school

A lack of building resources never stopped this school from opening

This Chinese elementary school is situated beneath a rocky overhang in Zhongdong and is believed to be the only cave school in the world. With six classes and 200 students, the unique school offers children from remote villages a chance of an education. Water and food shortages due to desertification and drought mean learning is essential for children hoping to improve their lives. 

11. Under the bridge 

This school is based beneath a very busy road

Another school in India that is organised by volunteers for poor children who aren't enrolled in the school system. It is located in the city of New Delhi and situated beneath an overpass. Volunteers teach children the basics of reading, numeracy and English. The school has been going for 10 years and has about 300 students.

12. Extreme school run

For some children even the walk to school is dangerous

While some children try to skip classes to spend time napping, other children have to overcome dangerous obstacles to be at school on time. These pupils and their parents from the small Indonesian village of Levak have to cross a very dangerous bridge that could collapse at any moment.

13. Children of the tundra

Helicopters drop children off at boarding school in Russia

Large numbers of nomadic northern people live in Russia, whose settlements are scattered on huge areas of tundra. To provide proper education for some children, the regional government of the Nenets Autonomous Area created special boarding schools. Helicopters deliver students in August and they study there until the New Year.

14. Damaged schools stay open

The Gaza Strip is a place of frequent military operations. Shells often damage civil objects, including schools. However, even half-ruined buildings are not a reason to cancel classes for children who are desperate to get a good education.

15. Witch school of Salem

Over 40,000 students take part in lessons about witchcraft

Not all curriculums are traditional either. Witch School teaches about witchcraft to budding witches worldwide. While the majority of its 40,000 students take their courses online, it has a physical location in Salem, Massachusetts, where students can also take classes in person. 

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