Solar power bridges digital divide for students in Kandahar

Child-Friendly Schools bring computers and playgrounds to students in southern Afghanistan

By Sayed Maroof Hamdard
Computer lab at a Child Friendly School in Kandahar, Southern Afghanistan
UNICEF Afghanistan/2017/Hamdard
05 February 2017

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, 5 February 2017 — Nineteen-year-old Pashtana wants to be a doctor when she graduates from school and for that, computer literacy will be vital. However, until recently, frequent electricity cuts in Kandahar City, Afghanistan’s second largest city, meant that the computer lab at the Nazoo Ana Girls’ High School was often closed and students could only learn computer theory.

Things changed in June 2016 when the school was selected to become a UNICEF-supported ‘Child-Friendly School’. Along with another eight schools, it will become a model for some 405 schools in the southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Urozgan and Zabul.

Samira, 17, sets up a Power Point presentation in the computer room at a high school for girls in Kandahar
UNICEF Afghanistan/2017/Hamdard
Samira, 17, sets up a Power Point presentation in the computer room at a high school for girls in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan. Until recently, frequent electricity cuts meant that students could not apply their skills in practice. Through the UNICEF-supported Child-Friendly School model, pilot schools received solar panels and back-up batteries that have powered up their computer labs.

Child-Friendly Schools

The Child-Friendly School (CFS) model aims to create gender-sensitive, safe learning environments with adequate water and sanitation facilities, where children enjoy good quality teaching and learning.

Before launching the programme in the model schools, teachers were trained and assessed on CFS methodology and other aspects of the programme.

In addition, as part of the minimum package of interventions to support the CFS model and improve student learning, the Nazoo Ana Girls’ High School received 20 solar panels, back-up batteries, and a convertor.

The panels generate enough electricity to power the computer lab and a submersible pump to lift underground water into water storage tanks that supply the school.

“Now the computer lab is reopened for students!” says a smiling Pashtana, “[Although] I will graduate in May this year, I am happy for other girls to use the lab and learn computer programmes, not only [theory] from the book.”

Girls practicing at a computer lab in a child friendly model school in Kandahar
UNICEF Afghanistan/2017/Hamdard
Classes are crowded now that solar panels generate enough electricity to power up the computer lab at the Nazoo Ana Girls’ High School in Kandahar.

Farzana Himat, the computer teacher at the High School, also welcomed the changes.

“Solar power is not only running the computer lab [but] we also use it for our new projector. My students are excited when I call them to join me in the computer lab. Before, I used to teach them only from the book [and] I felt like a history teacher,” said Farzana.

“I am proud of my students. They have learned the Microsoft Office programme in a very short time. It will help them when entering university or looking for work”.

Making schools conducive for learning

Bibi Aisha is the Principal at the Aino Number 2 Girls’ High School, another school in Kandahar selected to lead the way for the CFS model.

She is also thrilled with the prospect of bridging the divide between to enable access to computer courses, pointing out that beyond that, solar power is helping to improve the school environment as whole.

“This is very important,” says Bibi, “The yard is concrete now but [with a water tank] we will grow a lawn, which will make the school greener and more attractive for students to enjoy their breaks, sitting and playing outside”.

Students playing in the basketball court in a girls high school
UNICEF Afghanistan/2017/Hamdard
Girls play basketball during morning recess at a Child-Friendly model School in Kandahar. With limited opportunities for girls to play sports in one of Afghanistan’s most traditional provinces, the chance to play basketball at school has been thrilling and stimulating.

Providing a safe space for sports and recreation is conducive to learning and an essential component of the CFS model.

With limited opportunities for girls to play sports in a traditional society like Kandahar, the chance to play basketball has been thrilling and empowering.

“I really like this ground [because] it is safe for the students to play. We don’t have a facility for girls outside but this —and the computer lab — is so useful for my school”, says 17-year-old Samira, a student at the Aino Number 2 Girls’ High School. She wants to support girls’ education when she graduates.