One of the main infrastructural barriers preventing access to education in rural communities is the lack of access to electricity. More than 70% of sub Saharan Africa has no access to electricity and in rural areas this often exceeds 90%. The International Energy Agency (IEA) in 2010 published data on India that showed that over 60% of the population of 1.2 billion was without access to electricity. The aim of this paper is to describe how SIAB an ICTs solution can overcome this lack of basic infrastructure and transform multigrade and single grade classrooms in rural India and sub Saharan Africa into twenty first century learning spaces through the use of solar power.
SIAB an Immediate Solution to the Dispersion Problem in India
Seventy per cent of India’s rural population of over one billion people live in seven hundred thousand villages. The point is made to highlight the spatial difficulties in connecting schools or classrooms in rural India to ICTs using traditional community based Photovoltaic (PV) systems which are very expensive to set up. Photovoltaic (PV) is the process of converting solar radiation into electricity using semiconductors – solar panels generate electricity using this process. Research in Zambia this year concluded that the approximate cost (capital outlay) of powering 40 laptops per class using a PV system that included maintenance and security charges was in the region of US$30,000. In contrast the inexpensive standalone solar powered solution in SIAB overcomes India’s barriers in connecting dispersed village school and classrooms using solar power at a fraction of this cost at just US$360 per unit. SIAB is an immediate, affordable solution to counter the geographic spread in India that further hinders education provision. This observation cannot be over emphasised as SIAB can be viewed as a ‘just-in-time’ solution for children just starting school.
In contrast to typical PV solutions SIAB is maintenance free (apart from software and curriculum updates) and is inherently secure due to its portability. The lightweight portable foldaway solar panel in SIAB is a reliable and sustainable way to power and charge one device (Apple’s iPad2) which is at the heart of the system that delivers rich multimedia learning content. Widespread adoption of SIAB could further reduce costs as reductions for bulk buying could be factored in. This contrasts with traditional PV systems mentioned above that are bespoke, designed specifically to suit the particular needs of a school, its location and security limitations with no scope for discount.
Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) – Electricity Access
In essence the same energy related problems that exist in India are also found in SSA maintaining the digital divide that exists in an educational context between developed and developing regions.
Countries in SSA have a total population of 777 million people with 561 million without access to electricity. SSA represents 14% of the total population of developing countries but it accounts for almost 40% of the population without electricity compared to Brazil at just 2%. In some SSA countries such as Chad, Liberia and Burundi more than 95% of the population live without electricity a commodity taken for granted in most western societies.
SIAB is a solution that can deliver modern ICTs student centered pedagogy into SSA classrooms through the use of mini, portable 40 watt solar powered packs.
Crucial to the success of SIAB is the performance of the battery in the iPad 2. Our projection is that ten hours of battery life can be harnessed using the portable PV system providing enough power to run the connected system for two full school days – approximately 10 hours. To achieve long battery life when playing video, mobile devices such as the iPad 2 must decode the video in hardware; decoding it in software uses too much power.