Promoting quality education for all.

Electricity for Education

Gretchen Knoth, 

by Gretchen Knoth, ONE

The introduction of the Electrify Africa Act (H.R. 2548) by Representatives Royce (R-CA) and Engel (D-NY), outlines a bold vision for U.S. engagement in energy infrastructure and programs across the African continent. The bill seeks to coordinate U.S. funding to achieve three goals in sub-Saharan Africa by 2020:

  • Encourage the installation of at least an additional 20,000 megawatts of electrical power.
  • Promote first-time access to electricity for at least 50 million people, particularly the poor.
  • Support efficient institutional platforms that provide electrical service to rural and underserved areas.

The bill also includes a specific requirement to measure how many schools will gain access as a result of greater US financial support. Increased US action to address the lack of access to energy in Africa is long overdue. Fortunately, this act promises to help change that by mobilizing existing government resources, in addition to those in the private sector, to provide homes, schools, health facilities and businesses with the access to energy they need.

For many students and teachers across the African continent, energy poverty - the lack of access to reliable energy sources - is a challenge faced every day both at home and at school. In fact, 90 million children in sub-Saharan Africa go to primary schools that lack electricity. That means no projectors and presentations in the classroom, no fans or air conditioning units, no night time or evening classes, no computers or access to the internet and much more. Here are five additional ways that energy poverty affects education:

1. Energy poverty greatly reduces teaching resources and classroom materials.

Without electricity, teachers aren't able to make copies of school assignments or connect to the internet to research what activities or materials are available online. They also can't access online resources, such as videos and other multimedia sources, in their classrooms as valuable methods for instruction. As a result, teachers are unable to provide their students with the quality of education they deserve.

2. Energy poverty complicates work for staff and school administration.

School administrators are required to keep documentation of student's and faculty's grades and attendance rates manually on paper, instead of keeping a reliable, online record.

3. Energy poverty means limited working hours for students to study and complete assignments.

Many children in the developing world walk long distances to get to school from home, often leaving or returning in the dark. If, as is often the case, their house doesn't have a source of energy, these students aren't able to study at home in the evening. They are often forced to seek other sources outside their houses, sometimes at gas stations or under street lamps, in order to have enough light to complete their schoolwork. Families that do have energy at home often rely on kerosene lamps to provide light, a practice that is expensive, poses serious health risks and oftentimes cannot be found locally.

4. Energy poverty discourages teachers from working in areas without access to electricity.

The lack of electric lighting, televisions, computers and other services deters well-trained and well-educated teachers from living and working in communities that may need them the most.

5. Energy poverty reduces the amount of time that children spend in school.

Children are oftentimes forced to collect firewood or clean drinking water for cooking, heating and drinking instead of attending class, preparing for an exam or completing homework assignments. Alternative fuel sources or devices, like smoke hoods that cook food more efficiently, require the use of little to no firewood. Solar-powered water pumps provide families with easily accessible drinking water and reduce the number of cases of diarrhea and other water-borne illnesses that contribute to disease and poor school attendance rates.

Energy access has real implications for educational attainment across the continent.Only half of primary school students in Abu Hasheem, a small south-eastern state in Sudan, received passing grades on their exams in 2007. That number increased to 97.3 percent after the Sudan Multi Donor Fund-National sponsored a project to provide solar power to the community. Success rates like this can be achieved across sub-Saharan Africa with continued commitment from local governments and renewed support from the US and other nations in providing access to reliable and modern forms of energy.


Gretchen Knoth works on ONE's Creative team in Washington, D.C. 

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