How Solar Power is Keeping Kenya’s Kids in School

Solar power has long been considered a great alternative source of energy. But in Mihingoni Primary School in Kenya’s southeastern coastal county of Kilifi, it’s opening new doors for children to receive better education.

By Freddie Rand

Solar power has long been considered a great alternative source of energy. But in Mihingoni Primary School in Kenya’s southeastern coastal county of Kilifi, it’s opening new doors for children to receive better education. Energy World reports that the school has begun adopting solar power technology, and with fantastic results. The initiative, which is made possible by two British organisations, has encouraged higher school attendance among pupils by making electricity more accessible and affordable.

Powering Kenya’s schools

As part of the Kenyan government’s strategy to introduce e-learning into primary schools, over a million tablets were distributed throughout the country. Although, the project had little effect in rural communities, where power can be quite expensive. Also, many other areas across the country are off the grid and have no access to power. Because of this, students from schools like Mihingoni Primary had very little chance to use their tablets, which typically only have an 8-hour battery life. However, the array of 800-watt panels lining the roof of the school aims to change that. Thanks to the panels, the students now have fully charged tablets to pursue e-learning, which has proven to be quite engaging for them.

Solar energy is also bringing the school’s electricity costs down. In the past, Mihingoni school tuition fees included an electricity fee of 1,500 Kenyan shillings (roughly £11.41), a high price for poor families. But with solar energy helping power the school facilities, the fee has been greatly reduced to just 500 shillings (£3.80). This decrease has resulted in higher attendance rates: Last year, the school had only 50 students per class, a number that has now grown to 140.

The panels are also powering other key educational tools. In Migodomani Primary School, some 50 kilometres north of Mihingoni, teachers and students are finally able to use their projectors and televisions. Like tablets, these pieces of equipment weren’t operational due to the lack of electricity. The green energy from the school’s panels, which were installed earlier this year, is also providing light for the students’ boarding facilities. In the past, students had to rely on costly and pollution-producing paraffin lanterns. In a previous report on pollution and its disastrous effects here on Energy Live News, it was found that pollution kills a staggering 1.7 million children across the globe every single year. This makes initiatives like implementation of solar panels in Kenyan schools all the more important, as they not only help children receive better education, they also serve to keep them healthy.

Image: Malay Mail

One step at a time

This initiative sheds further light on the plight of less fortunate children in Kenya. Save the Children notes that although Kenya is considered one of the most developed countries in the African continent, it is also one of the most unequal. Far away from the tourist centres along the Kilifi coast, communities in the poverty-stricken areas of Mihingoni and Migodomani schools struggle for even the most basic needs. Therefore, the work done to power their rural schools is definitely a step in the right direction.

After all, the initiative is quite a turnaround for the country after the obstacles it has overcome to introduce technology into its educational system. The Conversation reveals that the country’s energy commission did not allocate any funds to solar power technology because it had deemed it too expensive to implement. Moreover, there was very little awareness in terms of the technology because there were no business enterprises that could introduce it in the rural areas. In addition to that, local communities had a stigma about modern technology and refused to employ it. And without a technical services support group on hand to demonstrate the utility of the technology, this mistrust would have continued.

It is fortunate, then, that in the interval between 2011 and 2018, several foreign organisations have taken the lead in bringing solar power to key infrastructure in off-grid and energy-poor areas. The OVO Foundation provided funding for Mihingoni and Migodomani Primary Schools’ solar panels, while Energy 4 Impact had taken care of the installation process. The school, on the other hand, will shoulder ongoing maintenance costs.

The best part is, it’s only the beginning. As of March this year, Standard Media shares that 20 pilot solar panels have been completed in 16 schools and four clinics in two Kenyan counties. The groups hope to expand the service to even more educational institutions to help children in underpowered areas have a better future.

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