Solar panels brings not only the electricity but also the learners back to school
Enabling electricity access to rural schools and education for thousands of children
According to the Educational Statistical Bulletin data 2020, more than half (55 per cent) of schools in Zambia have no source of power, reducing the learning hours for children and leaving no window for lesson revision after classes. Lack of access to electricity also limits access to computers, printers, and other devices, impacting effective teaching and availability of learning tools.
“We used to bring our own torches to schools for evening classes, but the light was never enough and only lit the corners of the classroom,” says Mike Simukoko (16), a resident of Katete district of Zambia. Mike studies in grade 12 at Katiula Combined School, in Katete. “I wanted my friends to be with me at the school and would try to convince this one friend to attend the classes, but he would refuse saying, I do not want to study in a classroom with no light. Now, since the return of the light, he has also started going to the school and even scored better than me in the exam scores for several subjects”
In 2020, as the country responded to COVID-19 emergency, a great number of children continued to be left behind in studies, with many dropping out of schools. In 2021, UNICEF in partnership with the Government of Zambia and with generous support from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) Fund, implemented the COVID-19 Education Sector Response Programme. The programme included a range of interventions ranging from improving infrastructure, enabling continued access to education for children, and community mobilization and awareness sessions.
One of the key interventions under this programme was to install solar panels in the schools of Zambia – in an effort to restore power and help students resume education in a safe, comfortable, and enabling environment. Through this intervention, UNICEF installed solar panels in 19 schools - with more than 6,000 learners - in Eastern, Western, Northern, Southern and Muchinga provinces of Zambia. Hence, bringing not only the electricity but also the young learners back to school, including those from marginalized and vulnerable communities.
“Seeing the construction work start for installation of solar panels on school roofs, the children wanted to tell their family members about this news immediately,” says Zelipa Banda, a Parent-teacher association member. “The children noticed that something different was happening at their school. And seeing their classrooms light up, they went home running, excited and breathless, shouting ‘there’s power at our school! There’s power at our school!,’”
The solar panel installation helped provide a safe and inclusive learning environment for children during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also helped students’ attendance in evening classes at the schools increase drastically and with resumption of night preparation classes, the passing rate of the Grade nine students increased from 17 per cent in 2021 to 63 per cent in 2022, a 46 per cent significant increase.
“The solar panels are providing us with light in the dark. We are now able to study even in the evenings and are able to catch up with our studies,” exclaims Mike, as he sits ready to take his lessons in a classroom lit with two electric bulbs connected to the solar panels on the school roof.
Mike wants to become a lab technician after graduating from school. He is also writing a research paper on investigating the possibility of electrifying the toll stations on the road. Sharing his future plans, Mike adds, “now that the computers at school are charged easily, I can continue my research and complete writing my research paper.”
While return of electricity helped teachers to deliver more effectively, it also motivated Ericho Zulu, a PTA member of the Zamaire Secondary School in Petauke district, also resume his journey of learning.
“I stopped going to the school after grade seven. Seeing the panels and school lit up in the evenings, I decided to enroll in the evening classes for adults at Zamaire school and renew the possibilities for myself,” says Ericho. Studying in the same school as his daughters, the proud dad further adds with a delight and dream in his voice,
“It is like a competition in our house now because my daughters also study at the same school. I encourage them to attend the evening classes for students regularly, always reminding them that if you want and work hard enough, you can become anyone and there are no limits…. You can even become the first female president of Zambia!”