Solar Lighting and Education in Rural Areas

Education is known to be the fundamental right of every human being. A self-determined and sustainable future is made possible only through education. The quality of the childrens education is challenged in many countries in the world due to lack of energy sources. Even though in India, it is a constitutional mandate to provide free and compulsory education until the age of 14, many parts of rural India face many obstacles to give even primary education to the children due to many factors including shortage of appropriate infrastructure. Student attrition rates are high in such places due to lack of reliable electrical power forces. If both the schools and their homes fail to give the necessary support in this regard, the children resort to kerosene lamps and candles at night to finish their homework or to prepare for their class tests. Dim light and harmful smoke from the kerosene lamp can raise health concerns and affect the students productivity. Fire accidents and poisoning from fuel ingestion are also considered a risk when children of school-going age are forced to handle these types of alternative power sources. As a lot of parents in rural India are not educated and might have faced similar issues when they were children, there is a lack of understanding towards the problem. This indifference of these parents towards education could be a major factor that is contributing to children dropping out from school.

Most of us who have access to electricity may not realize how privileged we are and one can easily underestimate the value of light until we experience off-grid living. Imagine the plight of thousands of students living in rural areas with less or no access to electricity, yet they are expected to compete with their urban counterparts in terms of results and academic engagement. Some are even lucky to be on-grid but unreliable power supply and inability to pay electricity bills remain the biggest handicap to such homes or schools. For the children to pursue their academic interests and to facilitate more learning, rural areas must consider alternate energy sources. Being literate is a crucial step to obtain basic skills and it opens many doors in terms of social interaction and development. The fact that we lose potential just because our children do not have access to basic education can be considered as a loss for the country in general. To tackle illiteracy, lighting must be accessible in off-grid areas that have no reliable energy supply. Sustainable solar lighting offers the comfort of modern light and is a safe and healthy alternative to kerosene lamps and candle lights.

There are many NGOs and organizations who work towards promoting literacy and providing study materials to the less privileged but in areas without energy access, these materials go a waste. We can find many dedicated teachers in rural areas who are willing to walk miles to reach their workplace and sometimes even work without any salary. With the right kind of guidance, children in developing countries tend to be generally highly motivated as they are aware that education is their stepping stone to a better future. These students combined with the committed teachers can create many opportunities for both the children and the society. In many rural areas across the world, the children help their parents in their work during the day. Evening classes after sunset can be made possible to such student communities if there is access to solar-powered lighting. The classrooms and the teachers’ rooms can be equipped with solar energy which is safe and affordable. A solar lamp for each child is another option where even when the entire house is not powered by solar energy, the portable solar lamp can enable learning for the child at night. Many teachers in rural areas do not have access to high-quality teaching materials due to the lack of electricity. Solar-powered computers are not portable but they still provide all the benefits of a regular computer with internet utilizing only free solar energy which is available in abundance. To improve the learning experience, the teachers can acquire knowledge through audiovisual illustrations and videos or online teaching aids to update their knowledge on a constant basis.

Children from low-income families sometimes suffer from malnutrition.  Many schools in rural areas encourage cultivation of crops in the school premises so as to provide school meals to its students.  These gardens are dependent on manual irrigation which is laborious and time consuming.  Solar water pumps in schools make water irrigation easier and efficient.  Solar energy can also facilitate improved living conditions for the students as well as the adults.  A solar powered lamp reduces crowding around a single source of light since they give brighter illumination compared to a kerosene lamp.  The children can efficiently use the evening time for learning with the help of these lights.  Meanwhile, the teachers get extra time after school hours to prepare lesson plans, check answer sheets, plan tests and also manage administrative work.  The smoke emitted by kerosene lamps could cause serious health problems in children, like breathing issues, headaches, vision problems, stress and irritation.  Solar lights offer clean lighting which keeps the children healthy and helps them to utilize their time effectively.  The adults can save the money spent on kerosene as these solar powered lights are only a one time investment and the energy used is constant and available throughout the year.  Solar lighting provides a sense of security and safety both in school premises as well as around their homes since there is reduced threat of wild animals, safety to use toilets and to move around the house and school and there no risk of fire from kerosene or candle lights.

If there is no adequate funding for the school to power the building entirely with solar lights, the children and the teachers can be provided with portable solar lights.  There are emergency tube lights, solar study lamps, solar torches and DC Kit available in the market, which are portable and lightweight.  All these lights come with a solar charging system, an in-built battery and an LED lamp. The portable solar panels have easy charging options.  A fully charged portable lamp can provide up to four hours of bright light.  These lights can be utilized by a small study group of 3 or 4 as it gives sufficient brightness.  The children may return these lights to school once they complete their education so that more students are benefitted and the school does not have to worry about investing on more lights.  The school can also provide shared centralized solar charging system to reduce the expense providing individual solar panels for students.  The biggest advantage of solar lights, especially if they are portable, is that there is almost no installation charge and no maintenance is required.  These lights are very compact, which makes it easy for the children to carry them.  The instructions for installation are very simple and the display indicators help the children as well as the teachers to understand the features of the light easily.  Surveys have proved that delivering these kind of facilities encourage improved attendance and academic performance in schools.

Government of India has different schemes for rural development.  There are subsidy schemes for rural homes for solar lighting installations.  Funding support from public-private partnership enables lighting solutions to even the most remote schools in the toughest areas.  The firms working in close coordination with the school administrations could monitor the functioning and usage of the installed lights.  This recorded information is useful for researches and for future projects in rural and/or tribal areas that have lack of traditional power supply.  Role of social workers is very important in the overall development of rural areas.  They work in close contact with local authorities as well as common people.  The confidence and trust that both these parties have in social workers could be useful in creating awareness amongst parents regarding the needs and rights of children and the importance of giving education to them.  This in turn can bring down the child labor ratio.  The teachers should be educated on the use of solar-powered lights and how the portable lights can be charged.  This situation creates a good opportunity for the children to learn about environmental challenges and renewable energy.  The organizations working for the tribal and rural development could also take initiative in organizing literacy programs for adults as well, giving them a second chance at learning.  Solar energy is a big step towards improved health, better education and financial stability for families.  It empowers students to learn and adults to create better social spaces for themselves and their children.  Children are our future and it is our duty to ensure that they have all the necessary tools available to make their future promising.