Lighting Up Education in Rural Africa with the Solar “Lamp Library” Initiative

FINCA International’s BrightLife is piloting a new initiative that brings solar lanterns to rural schools in Uganda. The project, led by FINCA UK with funding from a FINCA UK supporter and the Signify Foundation, allows students to use solar lanterns in school and borrow them to take home—much like you would borrow a book from a library—to facilitate evening studying for off-grid households.

Off-Grid Students are at a Disadvantage Compared to their On-Grid Peers

When the sun sets across most of sub-Saharan Africa, where two-thirds of the population has no access to electricity, the school day ends and learning stops. For an entire half day, students and teachers must suspend academic activities—reading, homework, tutoring, grading—until the natural light returns in the morning.

Rural areas are the least connected to the electrical grid, yet their schools and students must compete for results with their more connected urban counterparts. For those lucky to be on-grid, the electricity is often unreliable and expensive, while few alternatives exist. Countries like Uganda have committed to improving educational access and outcomes for all children, but grid and other infrastructural constraints continue to pose the biggest handicap to rural schools.

To contribute to efforts to level the playing field for these rural schools, FINCA UK has joined hands with one of its supporters and the Signify Foundation to bring a solar energy program, known as “Lamp Library,” to schools in developing countries. The project is piloting in Uganda through FINCA International’s clean energy social enterprise, BrightLife.

The Lamp Library Helps to Create a Level Playing Field

The project identifies a selection of schools in peri-urban and rural areas that have little or no access to electricity and retrofits them to house 100 solar lamps per school. In the selection process, BrightLife meets with the school faculty, students and parents to introduce the project and gauge local community support. Students in selected schools will be able to use lamps on-campus and have the option to also take them home for evening study.

Students at the Mbute primary school holding their new solar lamps as part of BrightLife’s “Lamp Library” initiative.

In addition, a curriculum co-developed with an educational consultant will teach students about the benefits of solar energy. This program will give the students’ households direct access to BrightLife so they can learn more about its innovative and life-enhancing clean energy products. School administrations also have the opportunity to benefit from training in entrepreneurship and how to leverage this project to generate new revenue streams for their schools.

Stefan Grundmann, President & CEO of BrightLife, had this to say:

It is easy to underestimate the value of light if you haven’t experienced off-grid living, but for students it could be the difference between pursuing academic interests and settling for a lifetime of unexplored potential. Our hope is that the Lamp Library can help to facilitate more learning and academic engagement in rural schools.

Mbute Primary School hosts the first Lamp Library launched by BrightLife in Uganda.

The first Lamp Library officially opened in February in Mbute, a public primary school in Mpigi District, 60 miles outside the capital, Kampala. In the coming months, the project will be rolled out to two additional schools located in Jinja District in eastern Uganda. Combined, the three schools serve nearly 1,200 students.

Assessing the Impact of Solar Lighting on Education

BrightLife will monitor the participating schools on a monthly basis to review progress, track impact metrics and introduce additional clean energy products to interested families. As part of its mission, the project intends to study the impact that solar energy access can have on students’ education, particularly if energy access leads to greater resiliency in schools and households. In addition to the goal of improving educational outcomes, the project also hopes to create a pathway for improved energy access among low-income communities.

If you are interested in learning more about the Lamp Library initiative and donating to support the project, please contact Bill Lane at [email protected].