KAMPALA, Uganda– In a world where technological development is valued increasingly every day, more and more students are falling behind in school, producing an ever-widening education gap between the children of the haves and the have nots. Schools in Uganda, however, are finding a way to bridge that divide using a resource that they do have: sun.
A local nonprofit organization, the Maendeleo Foundation is striving to bring the global benefits of the Internet to the most secluded regions of Uganda, where access to technology is severely limited, for structural, financial and geographic reasons. Unstable and sparse power lines make electricity a constant uncertainty in the African country’s rural regions.
Solar power is a more sustainable and self-reliant alternative. However, the majority of rural schools find the permanent installation and maintenance of solar panels too expensive to be a viable option. The Maendeleo Foundation’s mobility is the perfect solution for both the lack of electricity and the lack of funds.
Solar-powered, well-equipped and mobile classrooms visit five schools a week, and their initiative has introduced computers and other skills to over 2,000 children so far. The scene that unfolds upon their arrival is impressive, with pop-up tents and a generator to construct a classroom space with enough solar power energy for each child to use a laptop for several hours.
Often taken for granted in the developed world, constant interaction with touchscreens, keyboards, mobile phones and even social media is a privilege crucial to educational development and future career options. The reality of the world today is that nearly every sector of the business world is fixated on maximizing their use of an incessant stream of technological advancements, and jobs likewise require prior knowledge so as to keep up.
Arguing that computer lessons are essential to education in the modern world, John Walusimbi, a trainer in the foundation, states that “If children have these skills they won’t be left behind”
In Uganda, such technologies as laptops and mobile phones are still extremely expensive, and mostly reserved for the elite. However, as the country’s economy continues to integrate itself with the global market, the presence of technology will rise considerably, and the prices are expected to lower. Ugandans of rural communities will fall even more significantly behind their urban countrymen, educationally and economically, should they not be allotted the same tools of learning.
Never has there been a more important time to focus on education in Uganda, whose under 18 demographic comprises more than half the population. Between 1962 and 2012, the number of inhabitants rose from merely 8 million to over 34 million, and is expected to hit 130 million by 2050. The next several years will see a record number of Ugandan young adults, leaving school and beginning the job search.
Competitiveness in science and technology has been isolated as one of Uganda’s main focuses of development. As of 2012, only 30 percent of higher education students were prepared to pursue studies in the sciences, which is much lower than the 40 percent necessary to stimulate steady development. Providing students with employable skills, mainly the ability to thrive in the digital age, will decide the nation’s economic and social health.
Aside from just lessons in general computer skills, the solar-power schools enable students’ entrance into the abundant world of information that is the Internet. Computer access will facilitate more advanced lessons in such topics as health and agriculture, which is learning that will disseminate its benefits throughout the entire community. This aim has attracted a partnership with the nonprofit Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL), which advocates for digital availability in developing countries.
Traveling by way of Jeep, difficult road conditions often impede these sunny schools on wheels as they make their way to the most remote, and therefore most in need, students. Their future plans, however, include more cars with better road capabilities, as they hope to provide necessary tools for education in a changing world to even more Ugandans.