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Mobile, solar schools bring power to the powerless

Four examples show how solar-powered mobile schools can bring computer education to some of the world’s poorest children.

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Samsung has a keen interest in educating Africa’s youths and ensuring a technologically savvy workforce in the future. In fact, Samsung has a “Built for Africa” product range and has signed South Africa’s 39M Pledge, which is a “government-endorsed initiative that aims to encourage a national culture of energy saving for a sustainable future."

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Moreover, in an article in the Engineering News RecordSamsung Electronics Africa president and CEO K.K. Park said:

"With the goal to grow our business on the continent, we also know that we have to sustain our level of innovation. This can only be achieved if we invest in education to facilitate African thought leadership and to ensure we have access to a large workforce of skilled engineers in the future.

"The solar-powered internet school is a great example of this strategy at play," he concluded.

Maendeleo Foundation mobile solar computer classroom project

Starting on a smaller platform, but with an equally big vision, two SUV’s bring laptops powered by solar panels to students in Uganda.

In a country where only 9 percent of the population has access to a power supply and only 3 percent can afford it, modern computer education seems like a pipe dream. With an SUV retrofitted with solar panels and five laptops, the Maendeleo Foundation sought to redress this problem. With the help of a grant from Intel in 2009, the foundation now operates two mobile solar computer classrooms, training 15 people at a time and 200 per day.

It also opened an advanced training center in early 2012, where students who show potential and interest can receive further training and education. Through a succession of grants and recognition, the Maendeleo Foundation furthers its mission of “nurturing progress in east Africa through technology training, job creation … and the power of the sun.”

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These four initiatives—SELCO's bus, Rezwan's boats, Samsung's shipping containers, and Maendeleo's SUVs—all consist of simple, solar-powered solutions to a complex and insidious energy poverty problem. Many of these solutions are still in their nascent prototype phase, so it’s difficult to judge whether the intended outcome of trained, job-ready workers has been fulfilled. The sun shines on us all, but not all of us can get our fingers on the technology that will most likely drive our future. And from an article from Next Billion, this is indeed the crux of the matter:

"On one hand, Western universities and philanthropic organizations are encouraging inventors to create technologies for development by offering grants, hosting competitions, and showcasing the solutions in the media. On the other hand, very few people in low-income communities around the world are benefiting from these inventions, let alone know that they exist."

These innovative models can’t do much good until they’ve got a sustainable funding model like Rezwan's floating schools and solar lamp combo, or scaled up with the support of government and other local players. Then we'll start to see the sun shine its way into every classroom.

This article originally appeared at Global Envision, a blog published by Mercy Corps.

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