Held under the banner of ‘Changing Course, Transforming Education’, this year’s International Day of Education aims to showcase the most important transformations that can help enable students to enjoy their fundamental right to education.
The day’s theme is particularly pertinent considering that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the education of young children, students, and youth the world over. According to UNESCO, at the peak of school closures in April 2020, 1.6 billion students were out of school worldwide. Nearly two years on, 700 million students are still learning from home, amid uncertainty and huge pressure on families to juggle hybrid and remote learning technologies.
This challenging context is also exacerbating a pre-existing learning crisis. Before the pandemic, according to the World Bank, 258 million children of primary- and secondary-school age were out of school. Moreover, the Learning Poverty rate in low- and middle-income countries was 53%, which means that over half of all 10-year-old children could not read and understand a simple text. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the figure was closer to 90%.
What’s more, in developing countries many students live in remote or rural areas with no or unreliable access to electrical grids or the technology to enable remote learning. In addition, according to the International Telecommunication Union, around 9 in 10 school age children in Sub-Saharan Africa do not have internet access, which can further entrench inequality in education.
Decisive action is needed to prevent further learning losses and ensure that all students have the skills and knowledge to become empowered citizens. Investment in solar-powered appliances and technologies can enable access to distance learning for students in low-income countries and help them develop the digital skills that will allow them to thrive in competitive 21st century workplaces.
Across the world, appliances such as televisions and radios for remote and rural settings are helping students to keep up with coursework and achieving educational targets. For example, Azuri Technologies in Kenya is helping students in remote communities continue their education with its solar-powered satellite television. The Edu TV Channel 029 features daily lessons including English, Kiswahili, Maths and Science along with essential public health information on COVID-19. Given that over 600,000 girls are estimated to be out of school in Kenya, televisions can serve as a vital conduit for information that can help boost literacy, increase workforce participation, enhance health outcomes, and reduce gender inequality. What’s more, in an Efficiency for Access and 60 Decibels survey of over 2,300 TV customers in Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Kenya, 93% of respondents reported an improvement in their quality of life after purchasing a TV and 25% reported increased access to information and education.
African governments are also promoting the use of solar-powered appliances and technologies to help students continue their education. In Uganda, President Museveni directed the country’s treasury to procure 137,000 solar televisions and 10 million solar radio sets to facilitate distance learning. Considering that schools in the country have only just reopened after being closed for about 83 weeks, enhancing access to these technologies can help prevent children from remote and rural households from falling behind their peers.
It is also crucial that students in low-income countries have opportunities to become digitally literate. To help address this situation, the Efficiency for Access Research and Development Fund supported Jirogasy, with funding from the IKEA Foundation, to develop the Jirodesk2, an affordable, solar-powered computer for use in Madagascan schools. The company has also partnered with Accessmad, a local NGO, to train local teachers how to use the computer and small servers. In this way, the project is supporting teachers to improve student learning and providing access to practical, high-quality professional development opportunities. This partnership has enabled almost 7,000 Malagasy students to gain access to the Jirodesk2 and online education programmes. Considering the International Finance Corporation’s estimate that 230 million jobs across Africa will require some level of digital literacy by 2030, projects like this can be transformative for Malagasy students and teachers.
COVID-19 offers an important opportunity to address the global learning crisis and promote the use of educational technologies that are appropriate for resource constrained settings. Ultimately, collaboration will be essential to increasing the availability of solar-powered appliances and technologies such as televisions and computers can help students gain access to high-quality education and ensure that no one is left behind. To help achieve this, we encourage you to support Efficiency for Access’ efforts to promote high-performing appliances that can accelerate clean energy access for the world’s poorest people. We invite you to join us by becoming a member of the Efficiency for Access Donor Coalition if you are an aid agency and foundation, becoming a Programme Partner if you are another organisation, signing up to our newsletter or following our social media channels.