Every night Georgetown students sit down; pull out their textbooks on a desk illuminated by a light on their dorm room desk or the ceiling in Lau. We feel safe working into the wee hours of morning until all the information we want to learn has finally stuck in our minds.
At Georgetown we may worry that there are not enough hours in a day to get work done, but never that there is not a space for us to do so.
It is easy to take for granted how integral a role access to electricity plays in the education process. In many developing nations students fully understand the challenges of attending schools without electricity as it severely affects their ability to receive an acceptable education.
Documentary maker Eva Weber investigated how lack of access to electricity affected students in Guinea in her film “Blackout”. There she found students forced to study outside in the city at night.
Busy locations like gas stations or bus stops are usually the only available locations. Working in such locations makes focus very difficult and compromises the safety of many students.
Women especially expressed concern about how dangerous it can be to study in the city at night.
A recent devastating example of how lack of access to electricity undermines school safety was highlighted by the Nigerian Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo – Iweala at Georgetown last Friday in her talk titled “Advancing Safe Access to Education for Girls in Nigeria and Beyond.”
Dr. Iweala focused on the kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls in the Chibok Village of Northern Nigeria by terrorist group Boko Haram. During the kidnapping Boko Haram men fired gunshots near the school before making their approach. They then arrived to the school’s campus, which was experiencing a blackout, in military uniforms and told the girls they were there to rescue them from an incoming Boko Haram raid. By the time the girls were able to realize the men were Boko Haram and not the Nigerian Military it was to late to escape.
Dr. Iweala questioned how events might have transpired differently had the girls been able to see the faces of the Boko Haram men that night. She stated that when the government interviewed girls at similar boarding schools in the region about what they felt could be done to make schools safer the overwhelming primary request was that electricity be available in the schools at all hours of the day.
Every child has the right to an education they feel safe receiving. Many obstacles must be overcome to make this a reality and ensuring constant availability to electricity in schools is a necessary first step.
The easiest solution for most schools would be to install solar panels to generate electricity. Finance Minister Iweala was a firm advocate for this solution in her speech since solar panels are cheap and do not require a standard power grid to work.
Some areas of Northern Nigeria have already had tremendous success with this solution and the electricity solar power has provided transformed villages. Other areas have experienced difficulties with the solution since no one is able to repair the solar panels when they break.
It is therefore important to work closely with the local populations when installing solar panels so after installation crews leave people posses enough information about the technology to repair or reinstall them if needed.
No student should have to study a busy street intersection or fear for his or her life to receive an education. It is is every government’s duty to ensure students an opportunity to succeed by making projects that provide schools full access to electricity a reality.