South Africa: History
Building on our earlier success in South Africa, in 2008 SELF solar-electrified three schools in the Eastern Cape Province, the birthplace of Nelson Mandela. Funded through the generosity of the Kellogg Foundation and JP Morgan Chase, with laptops provided by Dell Computers, two thousand students and their families now have access to reliable lighting, new computer labs and the Internet.
Marginalized Rural Areas (MRAs) of Southern Africa, and Africa as a whole, refer to rural areas with a fairly high population density and where poverty is endemic (i.e., inhabitants lack three basic human requirements: food/water, medical care and education). Such areas are characterized by a lack of infrastructure and services.
The aim of this project is multi-faceted. Through the installation of Internet-enabled computer labs at a school in a MRA, we wish to bring the community into contact with the rest of the world and surrounding communities. This will ultimately improve educational quality at the schools, broaden perspectives of the students and community, and provide impetus for revenue generation and improved access to knowledge services for the community.
The basic goal of the project is to provide sustainable energy to a cluster of schools in a MRA in the poorest part of the Eastern Cape Province, near Mthatha (Elliotdale). The special focus of this project is to establish a substantial computer lab that is connected to the Internet.
Additional schools were provided with mobile computing facilities that can easily be integrated into regular classes and can also be used to communicate through the Internet.
The project achieved all of its aims. The computers and the power generated by the solar installations are being used on a daily basis to improve the lives of 2000 students and their families. The project has begun to catalyze community involvement, and community training in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) by and for the community began in November 2008.
In addition to the direct benefits to the community, this project will form a replicable model that can be used throughout South Africa. This endeavor may be a pilot project for a nationwide government program of rural school electrification and Internet access. A nationwide program creates a scale capable of reducing costs and increasing installation and training efficiencies.
In South Africa, our partner eKhaya ICT is conducting the ongoing implementation and assessment of our intervention in the Eastern Cape Province.
Electric light is critical in increasing literacy among the world’s poorest population. Students are able to study and read more easily due to the illumination of an overhead light, rather than a flickering candle or kerosene lamp. Solar energy can also electrify rural schools, not just for lighting, but to power VCRs and television, overhead projectors and computers.
In 1996, SELF began a project to bring solar electricity to Myeka High School, in Maphephethe South Africa.
Within the first year, the school was equipped with an overhead projector, two television sets, a VCR, a photocopier, a copy printer, and 20 computers marking the beginning of a new school experience for these youngsters. The enthusiasm in the school has been contagious throughout the teachers, students, and community. Teaching has become interactive using videos, TV programs, and overhead projectors to augment the learning experience. Students can now spend their time discussing topics and reading texts instead of hand-copying notes off the chalkboard.
After receiving solar electricity at Myeka High School, not only did enrollment soar by 40%, but pass rates (the percentage of seniors who graduate with a diploma) jumped from 55% to 69%.
In January 2000, with the help of SELF, Principal Melusi Zwane had another dream evolve into reality: Myeka High School was connected to the Internet.
Teachers will no longer have to depend on expensive and scarce textbooks since the Internet provides unlimited access to current studies in topics such as science, technology, engineering, and medicine. The school’s decreased dropout rate and increased enrollment can partially be attributed to the youth’s expectation that the skills they will obtain at Myeka High School will make them more employable.