What Difference Can Renewable Energy Make to Education Quality and Improvement?

There is no doubt that there is tremendous potential for renewable technologies on the continent. Low-carbon development, energy efficiency and climate change adaptation programmes are vital to Africa’s future. Moreover, communication technologies, industrialisation, agricultural improvements and expansion of municipal water systems all require abundant, reliable and cost-efficient energy access.


Rt. Hon. Lord Paul Boateng, Planet Earth Institute Trustee

With power we are empowered – without it we are powerless.

The supply of reliable, cheap energy has for some time been a high priority in the developing world. This has huge potential impacts in all areas of life including education. Currently the focus of off grid renewable energy in education has been on providing lighting, cooling/heating and to use a variety of technologies in the classroom. However, we must look carefully at the educational needs first, what technology can help achieve these, and then plan what energy solution is best to enable this.

Wider access to focused, directed and sustainable renewable energy sources, aligned with similarly focussed educational technologies, can not only improve the opportunities of an individual, but if implemented correctly, can help communities realise their economic potential faster than has been previously possible.

For example, to improve the educational standards in a country, a key issue could be quality of teacher training and in-service teacher support. In this scenario, if teachers in remote locations were provided with quality online support, training, teaching resources and feedback then it could have a big impact on the quality of teaching and consequently learning. To enable this, a small standalone wind/solar hybrid generator could support the computer and connectivity of the teacher. Potentially, this could have a big impact on education quality without extensive infrastructure outlay.

Providing a variety of renewable energy solutions to developing countries for specific purposes – like the improvement of basic education, the creation of local higher education research opportunities or simply to allow teachers and students to access a wide range of learning, teaching and professional development/training resources – has obvious benefits for the individuals concerned. However, the spread of these solutions must bear these important factors in mind if they are to succeed in the long term:

1. What are the educational priorities for the locale or country?
2. What form of technology will assist in the delivery of these priorities?
3. How can the long-term support and development of educational initiatives be monitored to ensure their effectiveness?

While the above is by no means an exhaustive list of factors, if they are considered throughout the planning, implementation and monitoring of such initiatives, the chances of maximum educational productivity are increased. What the increasing access to reliable and affordable solar and wind energy can do for education is considerable and has huge potential, if implementation is planned and focused effectively.

On the other hand, if funding agencies and national governments decide on the technology to be used first, before the priorities and imperatives are decided, then the chances of failure and wasted investment are multiplied considerably.  All too many instances of ‘the latest and greatest’ or commercially driven initiatives have resulted in wasted resources, which, to put it bluntly, rob students of opportunities they might otherwise have had.

We should not assume technology in education is the sole preserve of the developed world, and indeed we need to embrace the idea that accelerated progress for individuals and countries can be much greater in developing nations if planned and implemented effectively. However the only way this can be practically carried out in a realistic timeframe is via the use of local, affordable and reliable renewable energy solutions.

This blog post is based the findings from the paper Carbon Neutral Point of View.  

Photo © Promethean World

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David is Head of Education Strategy for Promethean, working in the International Division that encompasses all but North America. He works with governments, corporations, funding organizations and NGO’s advising on and developing projects for the use of technology in the classroom. Recently he has been developing strategies for Promethean in the International community, to ensure technology is used effectively as a tool to drive educational transformation.