Solar products shine light on education in developing countries and refugee camps

The UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 4; ensuring inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning by 2030. Despite the progress, a total of 57 million children remain out of school in developing countries. In refugee camps education is argued to be in a state of “crisis” by the UNHCR. Light through solar power provides a much-needed possibility to study in the dark after sunset.

By: Iben Bjørgulf Antonsen

The importance of education

“Education is the key to unlock every locked door. So if you’re educated you’ll get access to other parts of the world and benefit a lot.” These are the words of Julia, an 18-year-old girl born and raised in the UNHCR administered Dadaab refugee camp. Julia is, however, one of the lucky few who are enrolled in schools in refugee camps.

In 2016 there were 17.2 million refugees under UNHCR mandate, half of them under the age of 18, a UNHCR report on Refugee Education in Crisis describes (p. 4). For many of these, education is out of reach. Despite the fact that school aged children are supposed to get 200 days of school in a year, a total of 3.5 million children under UNHCR mandate did not attend school at all (p. 8). Just 61 per cent of refugee children attended primary school – globally the average is 91 per cent (p. 9). Adolescents in refugee camps also lack education with just 23 per cent enrolled in secondary school, compared to 84 per cent globally (p. 5). For tertiary education the situation is critical, since only 1 per cent of the refugee youth attends university, compared to 36 per cent globally (p. 5).

Education believed to break cycle of poverty

The importance of education is, however, unambiguous:
“Education gives refugee children, adolescents and youth a place of safety amid the tumult of displacement (…) The education of these young refugees is crucial to the peaceful and sustainable development of the places that have welcomed them, and to the future prosperity of their own countries,” states UNHCR in the report on refugee education Left Behind (p. 4).

For this reason, education is by the UN considered as “the key that will allow many other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved.”  Completing a quality education is believed to break the cycle of poverty, reduce inequalities and empower people to live more healthy and sustainable lives.  

Effects of solar lamps on education

Julia from the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya describes how the BRIGHT SunBell solar lamp has added value to her life, as she is now able to do homework after sunset:

 

“During the day we are here in the school. After we go home we might do some homework, but normally we help the parents with different things. Then at night we use the solar lamp for studying and it boosted our performance a lot.”

Julia, Dadaab refugee camp

Often the only time of the day students have time for doing homework is at night when all chores are over. In a UNHCR report about Innovative Technology for Better Refugee Protection (p. 4) it is stated that:

“In camps without electricity or light, girls and boys cannot study at night, which is often the only time they get a chance to do homework. Evidence shows that the schools drop-out rates increase when students cannot complete or keep up with their studies.”

Field staff agrees that solar lamps gives much better chance of success

Many other factors affect academic performance such as motivation, quality of teaching, and access to materials. The direct link between access to light and higher academic performance is therefore unclear, but on the other hand experienced field people agree that access to solar lamps gives students a much better chance of success, since light provide the possibility to study after nightfall.  

This is evident in the Off-Grid Solar Trends Report from 2018 by Lighting Global (p. 172). Here different studies show the correlation between better education and access to light. In rural Brazil data show how girls with access to electricity are 59 per cent more likely to complete their primary education by the time they are 18 than those who do not have lighting at home. Additionally, study time after sunset has increased to 2.7 hours per day in Bangladesh and Bolivia, and students in homes with solar lights in Kenya increased their math grades with an average of 4 per cent

– Light increases childrens success rate in school

Alexandre Coster, director of BaoBab+, a company providing financial models for payment of innovative clean energy products, also see a clear correlation between access to light and children succeeding in the educational system.  

“Clearly, access to light through solar lamps have a great impact on education. In rural, off-grid areas children walk 2-3 kilometres every night to get light from public lanterns and do homework. The success rate of children in school increases a lot, when they have access to light at home. The students are much more motivated and excited to do their homework, because without a light it is very difficult and troublesome for them and they lose motivation and reason to stay in school.”

BRIGHT’s innovative solar products have been made available through microcred banking network and Baobab+ stores in Senegal, Mali, Madagascar and Ivory Coast.

Difficult to achieve SDG number four without basic need of light

Education is without a doubt vitally important for the future of children living in developing countries. Living off-grid without the basic need of light, the conditions for achieving SDG number four; ensuring inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning by 2030, is difficult to achieve. Being able to do homework and keep up with studies help decrease the likelihood of dropping out of the educational system, and with a solar lamp at night, important hours of study time is prolonged. In addition to providing students with more options to study, the solar lamp help improve health conditions.