Energy for Education
With this article, we inaugurate a short series of long reads on the enabling power of energy (pun intended!), and the need for integrated action that considers energy as a key catalyser rather than a stand-alone component. In this first episode, we talk about energy and education.
In countries that have achieved universal access to energy long ago, the enabling power of electricity is given almost for granted: we never stop to think that so many of the things we do are only possible because we can, literally, shine a light on them. In so many places of the world, though, this is not the case: darkness, lack of electricity and clean power still affect the lives of millions of families. As it often happens, this fundamental social injustice hits hardest the most vulnerable populations, and amongst them, children.
World Bank – 2017 – State of Electricity Access Report
How can you study when it gets dark? How can your school satisfy the demand of so many children, if it can only operate during the day?
In so many countries, and disproportionally in Sub-Saharan Africa, children must defy all odds to be able to study after dark, exposing themselves to all sorts of protection risks: for instance, studying outside, near the next light source (like a streetlamp) or using unsafe kerosene-fuelled lamps: UNEP reported, in 2014, that that more than 95% of deaths worldwide from fires and all types of burns occur in the developing world, with burns from fuel-based lighting being the primary cause of injury among young children. Other risks include structure fires, explosion, indoor air pollution, poisoning and inadequate illuminance causing damage to vision.
Schools and educators see their potential to quality teaching curbed by lack of instruments and time – those children who cannot attend in the day, will likely have to drop out. Equally, at times when families are struggling and negative coping mechanisms are in place, there is a higher chance that children will drop out to work rather than going to school, if there they cannot get a hot meal per day. It is very hard to provide food for many children, when you do not have a functioning canteen, or you cannot grow your own vegetables. Absenteeism is also linked with time spent collecting fuel, another element contributing to widen the educational gap of children affected by energy poverty.
The connection is so evident that literacy level is also dependent on the availability of electricity.
It is therefore clear that electricity is an essential element to achieve SDG4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. We find, then, that this can only truly happen if we also achieve SDG7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. It is all interlinked!
Also, by teaching children and students about clean energy and renewable energy sources, we contribute to raise a generation concerned about the health of our planet: children have a transformative power within their households, and they can contribute to behavioural change a lot more than we give them credit for. By teaching them how to generate clean power, they can be ambassadors of this transition in their own houses, and villages.
Currently, the EnGreen team works in Burundi to electrify more than 10 education centres – we hope to expand this work and to see, in the future, more integrated projects that will include access to clean energy to unlock access to quality education.
Together to achieve All SDGs!
 Light for Life: Identifying and Reducing the Health and Safety Impacts of Fuel-Based Lighting, UNEP, 2014
 Energy poverty in the Lao PDR and its impacts on education and health, Sothea Oum, Energy Policy 132 (2019) 247–253
 Lessons learned from rural electrification initiatives in developing countries: T Insights for technical, social, financial and public policy aspects, Fatema Almeshqaba, Taha Selim Ustunb, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 102 (2019) 35–53