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Beyond the School Bus: How Children Around the World Get to School

Tuesday, March 05, 2013 - 04:09 PM

For thousands of children worldwide, the toughest part of getting an education is getting to school.

Walking to school in Calcutta  (photo by Alfred Yaghobzadeh/SIPA)

A new exhibit now on display at the United Nations chronicles those sojourns.  Journeys to School follows the routes of children in 13 different countries take as they walk, ride donkeys, snowmobile, ride the subway, and even canoe to school. Many of them must navigate dangerous roadways -- an issue that was thrown into sharp relief in New York City last week, where a 6-year old boy was struck by a truck just blocks from his school.  All the photos underscore the link between transportation and education. Getting to school in a safe -- not to mention timely -- fashion is as important as the condition of the classroom.

(Photo by Kate Hinds)

Children going to school via somlot, a motorcycle rickshaw in Mae Sot, Thailand. The driver is also the children's teacher. "If I can't get the kids only 50% would attend class," he said. (Photo by Nicolas Axelrod/SIPA)

According to UN statistics, 1,000 people under the age of 25 are killed in traffic crashes each day.

Six-year-old Elizabeth Atenio walks two hours every day to attend classes at the Kibera School for Girls in Nairobi. (Photo by Nichole Sobecki/SIPA)

While much of the exhibit was devoted to countries in the developing world, some children are in major cities -- including New York.

14-year-old Far Rockaway resident Santiago Munoz, who commutes over two hours each way to school in the Bronx (photo by Kate Hinds)

Santiago Munoz lives in Far Rockaway, Queens -- a New York City neighborhood devastated by Sandy. Before the storm, Santiago's commute to the Bronx High School of Science was already daunting.

"I used to walk six blocks to the nearest A train station," he said, "and from there I would ride it for around, I would say 50 minutes, then transfer to the 4 train for 40 minutes." Tack on a ten minute walk from the station to the school, and his commute -- on an average day -- was one hour and 40 minutes.

But then Sandy washed out a key segment of the A train, and he now takes two buses to get to the subway. "And now it takes me two hours and a half to get to Bronx Science." He says he uses his commute time to do homework or catch up on sleep.

Munoz said the exhibit gave him perspective. While he acknowledges his commute appears tough to the average New Yorker, "compared to these kids -- not at all. They're very inspiring."

Ruth McDowall, standing in front of her photographs of schoolchildren in Nigeria (photo by Kate Hinds)

Photographer Ruth McDowall talked about the average school day for children of the nomadic Fulani minority in Kulumin Jeji, Nigeria.  "They have to wake up at 5:00 in the morning," said McDowall, "to do chores like collecting firewood, getting water -- sometimes it can take an hour or more in dry season." The kids start walking to school by 6:30 am. "They get to school by eight, do about three hours of school, and then do another hour and a half walk home." Because the walk is long and hot, many children become dehydrated on the way to school, where they often find it difficult to concentrate. When they get back home, the rest of the day is devoted to herding responsibilities.

(photo by Kate Hinds)

 

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (photo by Kate Hinds)

The exhibit is on display in the United Nations Visitors Center until April 26, 2013.  It's organized by UNESCO, public transportation company Veolia Transdev and photo agency SIPA Press.

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