How Solar power is changing Uganda’s rural schools

Solar panels provide enough energy to power the classroom’s equipment for up to nine hours a day, and for one and a half days without any sunlight at all (PHOTO/Courtesy)

KASESE — When Kisamba Primary School was opened in 1986, there was no chance of connecting to the electrical grid.

Located in the rural areas of Bugoye Sub County in Kasese District—Kisamba Primary School— one of the government aided schools has over 800 pupils but it is miles away from the closest hookup point connecting the region.

Those familiar with the school’s history in the last two decades attribute its poor performance in the national exams to lack of power.

In an interview, one of the teachers at the school, Johnson Basolene said, the school’s candidates for many years studied by flickers of candle lights and sometimes tried kerosene lanterns.

But these were dim, expensive and produced a foul odor.

He also thinks that whereas many rural pupils are academically bright, many of them lack time to revise books or go for preparatory studies as their counterparts in well settings.

This, he says also affects performance of teachers who he says often report late to school, a factor that affects completion of the syllabus leading to poor performance of the pupils in National exams.

“Most of teachers were also reporting late on duty. They were staying far away from the school premises because there was no electricity”, he says.

Over a year ago, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) working with European Union (EU) installed roof-top solar panels have been connected to a battery system to improve rural livelihoods and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions through wide spread access to clean and renewable sources of energy by 2025.

Since installing solar at the school in July 2019, Basolene says it has had a massive impact on the opportunities for pupils— not only giving them light to study by but access to modern technology that was previously only theory in textbooks.

Another teacher Vicent Kule says having access to solar has had a huge impact on the lives of the pupils especially candidates at Kisamba Primary School.

Not least, having good quality reliable lighting means they can read properly after dark and study for longer each day — creating extra time in the mornings and evenings for personal study time, which is important in helping them to perform to the best of their abilities in exams.

“Pupils from P.4 up to P.7 these days return to school to revise with teachers. They come at 6pm and go back home at around 9pm. The solar light has allowed us this additional reading time,” says Kule.

Jenipher Biira, a candidate at the school says she will perform better in the national exams after solar connection allowed her the extra classes.

“We don’t read while at home. Coming here for remedial classes and preparatory studies has helped me improve on my performance and no doubt, I will get a first grade,” she says.

The solar energy access also brought with it new learning opportunities as now the school was able to start boarding section for candidate classes.

Another candidate, Francis Tembo who hails from a disadvantaged background says he is overjoyed to see lights but also thinks the initiative brings an opportunity to stakeholders to realise the potential of solar energy.

The solar installation has since provided a major boost to the pupils’ education and future prospects.

With full-time solar powered electricity, teachers are now staying in the school quarters and are able to mark pupils’ examination scripts, lesson plan and scheme even at night.

Mr. George Masereka, the school headteacher says the results of solar connection to his school are already prominent— siting a shot up in pupils’ enrolment.

To the teachers, even though they didn’t get any first grades from last year’s PLE results, there are all hopes that the school will at least register not less than 5 first grades from this year’s PLE results.

The school’s administration is now planning to purchase a printer, computer and photocopier so that they can start printing their own exams instead of buying from distant places outside the school. With reliable solar energy at Kisamba, the future is bright.

A recent research found that children living in the developing world could gain significant study time each day if their homes and schools switched to solar energy.

Students who had solar access at home are also at an advantage, as children in households with solar lighting can nearly double their homework hours each night.

The study also found that there was a positive financial impact on homes and schools switching from kerosene to solar.

WWF Uganda has since installed institutional solar systems to 31 schools in Albertine Graben region under the Scaling-Up Rural Electrification Using Innovative Solar PV Distribution Models Project with funding from the European Union.

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