Bangladesh’s Education Ministry on Sunday issued a circular making swimming lessons mandatory in schools in an attempt to save the lives of thousands of children who drown every year in a nation prone to flooding during the monsoon rain season.
Around 18,000 children between the age of five and 17 drown in low-lying Bangladesh every year because they do not know how to swim, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which stresses that it is a much higher rate in respect to other nations.
The problem has heightened over the past years due to the population growth in urban areas, where not only swimming, but even cricket, the national favorite sport, or soccer is impossible for the great majority, unless practiced along the less busy alleyways. Gyms and sports centers are a rarity in the new overcrowded urban areas, where even private schools are often situated in city buildings. Public swimming pools are few and expensive and, in a Muslim majority nation, inaccessible to girls, if not in particular circumstances and situations.
UNICEF already introduced a programme to provide swimming lessons, which in the capital take place in portable pools to allow lower-income children to learn how to swim, while lessons in rural areas take place in ponds and bamboo structures. The project however has so far involved a limited number of students.
The directive has however raised questions, considering that the majority of the nation’s school structures are inadequate. The hope is that teachers and parents join in the effort, offering the children a basic education that includes swimming lessons, also as a prevention measure in case of flooding.