Solar lighting allows studying after dark

The Challenge

According to UNESCO, over 130 million girls between the ages of 6 and 17 are out of school. Malawi is one country with particularly acute challenges, where despite the need for, and desire to, access education, it is not easy for girls to follow their academic dreams . Statistics from Malawi’s National Statistics Office show that the primary school dropout rate for girls in Malawi is at  27% . The barriers are numerous, ranging from having to travel long distances to get to school, lacking access to lighting for night study and being forced into early marriage. 

Improving the level of education in Malawi requires many components including access to clean electricity to facilitate study at night, an increase in qualified teachers and the provision of infrastructure including boarding facilities. For girls in rural Africa, having access to clean, reliable energy is one component which can contribute to providing a better education and a brighter future. Research by SolarAid shows that students rated limited lighting as their top factor for what challenged their opportunities to learn and do homework.

Renewable Energy Solution

Through the Community Energy Development Programme (CEDP), 76 Solar Photovoltaic systems were installed in primary and secondary schools across Malawi across 10 districts.

Kamilaza Community Day Secondary School

One of the beneficiary schools was Kamilaza Community Day Secondary School in Mzimba District. The School has five rooftop solar installations powering two classroom blocks, a girls hostel and two teachers houses.

Access to good quality reliable lighting means they can read after dark and study for longer each day which helps them better prepare for exams, and the creation of an electrified girls hostel allows female students to stay within the school campus, helping them to concentrate on their studies away from societal pressures.

“Thanks to the solar lighting systems installed at our school, I am able to study at night. I believe I will make it to university because I have the best preparation towards exams.” Janet Mhango, Student, Mzimba

“I am very happy that my daughter is able to attend a self-boarding school within our community. We have seen a tremendous improvement in her grades because the night studies she is able to attend at Kamilaza. We are hopeful that more and more girls will be educated in our community.” –Jean Nkhata, Parent, Mzimba

Solar energy access at Kamilaza CDSS has also brought with it new opportunities. The school has been able to secure a donation of computers so learners can use ICT services for the first time. As a result, students and teachers can now access online resources such as e-books and journals as well as gaining exposure to the global nature of the internet.

The Future

Unfortunately, with the systems now 5 years old, most batteries are reaching the end of their life-spans. As a result, many of the CEDP systems are failing and need investment for repair or replacement of key components in order for communities to continue to reap the benefits of the systems. At the moment, Kamilaza Community Day Secondary school has hit a deadlock in their quest to secure funding:

“As a CBO, we have tried to engage several development partners  with the aim of securing funding to replace the failed batteries at the girls hostel but so far nothing has been realized. We are very worried. At the moment we are only able to have lights for two hours.” – Haeven Theu, Director, Fwasani CBO.

Deteriorating battery system in Kamilaza CDSS

As such, the need to find a sustainable financing mechanism for supporting CEDP projects remains. An asset management approach is currently being investigated and will form the basis of future research for Community Energy Malawi and the University of Strathclyde.

However, in the short term, financial support is needed to repair and replace key components of the failing systems as without electricity, much of the progress which has been made will be un-done and the gains in improving the opportunity and quality of education for young girls will likely be lost.