By Watmore Makokoba
As much it is critical to build educational facilities in rural communities in order to improve access to education, it would be much more beneficial if rural schools are electrified.
This would allow them to move with global technological advancements especially if sustainable renewable energy sources like the readily available solar energy are adopted.
If the prolonged sunlight periods in Zimbabwe, coupled with the advent of Information Communication Technology (ICT) are anything to go by, then there is hope for rural youths to reach greater heights in development through sustainable solar powered education systems.
Unlimited access to education and vital information have proved to be major catalysts in breaking the chain of poverty affecting the youths in rural areas and not only in Zimbabwe , but in most developing countries.
According to the United Nations Policy Brief on Sustainable Energy for Children in Zimbabwe, there are huge disparities between rural and urban areas in Zimbabwe with 83 per cent of urban households being connected to electricity compared to 13 per cent in rural areas.
“Rural communities get 94 percent of their energy requirements from traditional fuels, mainly fuel wood. Children are severely affected by the lack of access to electrical energy with 59 per cent of primary schools and 39.5 per cent of secondary schools lacking access”, reads the UN Report.
Without reliable sustainable sources of power and improved internet access, efforts by the government and other stakeholders to establish information centres in rural areas, will unfortunately be futile.
Alternative sources of energy can also help in the setting up of income generating projects such as horticulture and forestry for rural schools. This will contribute significantly to agricultural knowledge, greening of the environment and climate change mitigation.
As technological advancement takes the world by storm, most rural communities sadly remain stuck, devoid of critical information on world trends. This is due to unavailability of effective modes of communication such as the Internet.
Nyatsato Primary School in Rushinga District, Mashonaland Central, about 240km away from Harare on Zimbabwe’s border with Mozambique, remembers the day when the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) facilitated the installation of solar power kits in 2016. The community cannot imagine reverting to life in the old dark days.
There was no electricity or tap water for the school before the solar systems were installed and the students cannot help but be grateful for the initiative. One of the school teachers, Joyce Tangwara, said teaching has never been easier since solar energy was installed at the school.
“I can now assess my students work at night. Previously I would end lessons prematurely to go through their books. I can now give the students more attention during the day.”
“Students are now also being exposed to more learning material. One of my colleagues owns a laptop which he uses as a teaching aid in his classes. Even students from surrounding schools also benefit from using the lit classrooms for their studies at night.” she said.
The installation was done at a cost of US$42 180 and the amount cannot surpass the benefits to be accrued in the long run at the school and the community at large.
One of the attested solutions to challenges facing rural youth’s especially young women, is to improve and facilitate access to education and fostering self-development skills. Equal education opportunities can prevent the youths from being susceptible to child marriages and juvenile delinquencies.
The advent of information technology can uplift rural youths especially if sustainable energy sources are employed to facilitate smooth flow of information in marginalised communities.
The centralisation of development in urban areas, has forced rural youths to migrate to nearby towns and cities, further straining the facilities in the populous urban areas.
By utilising solar energy, rural schools can beat the technological impasse by setting up creative ICT hubs, improve learning as well as making it more enjoyable and fun.
Access to sustainable energy such as solar, means children can have a better education. This is particularly true in poor households where children spend much of the day helping in the fields and doing chores. Modern sustainable clean energy can reduce the burden and ensure children have more time to attend school and study.
To increase energy access in schools located in off-grid areas, there is need to look at new technologies and innovative sustainable models which are constantly emerging. Knowing what works best in the long term especially for poor communities is much more important if developing countries are to attain the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets.