Without access to electricity, primary students in West Africa have limited opportunities to see and study their textbooks. But now, thanks to a simple solar solution, Aide et Action is shining a light on education for thousands of students in rural areas of Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Senegal, and Togo.
In West Africa, 9 out of 10 schools are not equipped with lights which puts a daily strain on teachers and students. Extreme heat, dark classrooms with little to no ventilation and light, and a lack of modern educational tools make for a difficult learning environment. A lack of electricity also carries a financial burden for many who are already living in poverty as families must pay for lamp oil for their children’s studies.
A beneficial initiative for all
To address the issue, Aide et Action is running two programmes – A light for Africa and Enlightened school, a resource centre for quality education – in 120 primary schools, providing them with electricity through the use of solar panels and devices such as computers and rechargeable, portable solar lamps.
“Light is a favourable factor for education,” says Narcisse Ouédraogo, director of the Tambao school in Burkina Faso. “It is useful for everyone: teachers, students and even parents of students who no longer have to pay for lamp oil for their children.”
Students are now enjoying their lessons more. “In class, I can see the picture clearly now,” says Idrissa Belem, a year 3 pupil at the Kirabouto public primary school in Burkina Faso. “Now, I can easily copy the lessons. Before the installation of lights, I sometimes had to get really close to the text to see what was written.”
Electricity has helped to create better learning environments for all weather conditions too. During rains and storms, students and teachers can simply close their windows and switch on a light, an option that simply didn’t exist before. The installation of fans has also helped to ventilate classrooms where high temperatures often hinder children’s concentration.
Having electricity in the classroom is benefiting teachers too who are now staying later in school to prepare their lessons and correct students’ homework before returning home in the evening. They are also organizing tutorials outside of class hours for students who need additional support, especially those in exam classes.
Working in rural schools often leads teachers to live far away from their families. Access to electricity means they now have the ability to charge their mobile phones during the day and remain in touch with their relatives – a bonus which has given them more motivation to teach. “With electricity, we are more motivated to teach and support students for their success,” said Seydou Tienon, Director of Panassin School in Burkina Faso. “Teachers from schools not benefiting from the project wish to join.”
An impact both inside and outside school
In addition to the provision of electricity for buildings, Aide et Action has equipped schools with rechargeable solar lamps. These are given to students in exam classes who live far from school and need to travel home in the dark to learn their lessons. Organized in groups according to their living areas, students gather around the lamps to work, then bring them back to school the next day to recharge them. This initiative helps develop group work and greatly encourages students to help each other.
The project also provides schools with computers to improve digital literacy among students. For many, this is the first time they have had access to a computer, and it is a source of great pride. “My older brothers go to a cybercafé to do computer research, but they are not very proficient in Word,” says Rose Toffa, 6th grade pupil at the public primary school in Gbekon/B in Porto-Novo, in Benin. “I had the chance to take the introductory computer skills courses. This is the reason why they are now asking me to show them certain document entry functions and I am very happy”, she explains, smiling proudly.
“I can say today that we are getting the maximum benefit from the solar energy for our school,” says Claude Ahimakin, Principal of Hahamè Primary School in Benin. “For example, it has provided a lot of facilities for students who want to learn and do exercises in the evening. Solar energy and computer equipment further motivate students to have a taste for new technologies and allow them to be well-prepared before going to college”.
Our electricity provision programmes are not only improving learning and teaching conditions across West Africa, but they are also providing new opportunities for communities. The ability to learn after dark has opened up adult literacy classes for adults who wish to learn in the evenings.
According to Calude, these seemingly simple actions have been “life-altering” and are exactly the change we hoped to see – access to quality primary education which promotes possibilities for lifelong learning.