Lighting up the dark

February 25, 2010

A shocking 92% of people in sub-Saharan Africa live without electricity, according to UNESCO. When the sun goes down, day-to-day life comes to a near halt – and this includes children’s schoolwork. But this may change thanks to a new partnership between Philips Research and the Dutch Ministry of Overseas Development.

The project, called Sustainable Energy Solutions for Africa (SESA), aims to provide ten million people in Africa with affordable and sustainable energy for lighting, cooking and water purification by 2015. One of the first initiatives to come out of the partnership is the solar-powered education light, which could give children a better chance to finish their studies in the evening.

After school, most rural children spend the remaining daylight hours doing household chores and then, without electricity, have trouble finishing their schoolwork after night falls – often around 6pm. Facing such challenges, it’s easy to see why so many schoolchildren fall behind in their schoolwork and, often, leave school altogether. In fact, UNICEF estimates that while nearly 60% of children in sub-Saharan Africa attend primary school, the number drops to just 21% for secondary school.

“Lots of African children have the drive to succeed at school but not the resources,” explains Frank Atta-Owusu, project manager at KITE, a Ghana-based NGO that has partnered with Philips to get solar-powered lighting into rural communities. “After-dark lighting could help by extending study hours.”

To address this issue, Philips Research developed a new solar-powered LED education light. "It’s designed for kids so the light is quite safe,” explains Roger Ren, the project leader at Philips Research. “It doesn’t run hot and burn their hands. It’s small and sturdy yet simple to use. The light distribution is even and safe for children’s sensitive eyes. And because summer storms are common in Africa, the light is waterproof so if left outside, there’s no need to worry.”

With micro-credit and government-backed lending programs already in the works, rural African families may soon be able to afford a safer, cheaper and more permanent lighting option. And schoolwork will be completed on time – even after dark.

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+ Lighting up the dark