Notice: Uninitialized string offset: 0 in /mnt/web/wordpress/ on line 1 Notice: Uninitialized string offset: 0 in /mnt/web/wordpress/ on line 1 Notice: Uninitialized string offset: 0 in /mnt/web/wordpress/ on line 1 Notice: Uninitialized string offset: 0 in /mnt/web/wordpress/ on line 1 Notice: Uninitialized string offset: 0 in /mnt/web/wordpress/ on line 1 Notice: Uninitialized string offset: 0 in /mnt/web/wordpress/ on line 1 Notice: Uninitialized string offset: 0 in /mnt/web/wordpress/ on line 1 Notice: Uninitialized string offset: 0 in /mnt/web/wordpress/ on line 1 Whose Light is it Anyway? The Failure of Solar-Powered Study Lamps for Students – Impact Failure

Whose Light is it Anyway? The Failure of Solar-Powered Study Lamps for Students

When we first launched the Light for Education programme in 2007, we had over 12 years of experience in designing, installing, maintaining, and servicing lighting solutions for rural underserved. In its inception, the Light for Education programme was designed to reach high school students in hard-to-reach areas with a replicable and sustainable model that would ensure access to basic energy. The lack of electricity and light in their homes left these students at a disadvantage as they were unable to meet the demanding study schedules of high school. Through our Light for Education intervention, in partnership with the schools, a program was developed to make solar-powered study lamps accessible to these students to help them study in the evening without having to depend on non-renewable sources of lighting like candles and kerosene lamps.

The program took inspiration from the Midday Meal Scheme, where a hot nutritious meal was used as an incentive for children to attend school, and for parents to send their children to school. The state-funded meal programme ensured nutrition levels were restored and maintained among growing children. The question for SELCO was – if charging stations in schools for lighting at home could be used similarly. This would mean better light at home, better attendance in school, and children could continue studying at home without compromising their eyesight or their health.

And so a model was set up, where SELCO partnered with schools to set up charging stations for solar-powered lamps. Solar lamps were distributed amongst children, and pocket-sized batteries were brought in every day in the morning to school to be charged. In the evening, the children would carry the battery back to their homes and plug it into their study lamps.

From 2010 to 2018, the Light for Education programme grew into a landmark intervention and its visibility grew exponentially. The need for the intervention was high and so was the perceived impact. The number of schools and children enrolled in the programme continued to expand, and the programme attracted several enthusiastic partners who were keen to fund the initiative. Local philanthropies started to also partner with the local schools to give scholarships to children in the form of lamps. The media visibility that the project received also caught the attention of many national-level philanthropic initiatives that took an active interest in it. By 2012, we had many local and national-level partners who were keen to fund the project.

To further illustrate this, let us consider that the programme reached 100 schools, where 40 students in each school were beneficiaries across 10 districts. If six months after the installation, five study lamps stopped working, it would be costly and cumbersome for SELCO, as an enterprise to bear the cost of servicing and do the troubleshooting in an efficient manner. The repair work was not difficult and it could be easier done at the school or household level. We tried exploring a troubleshooting model with the school. But schools were reluctant to take this up as they were unable to establish a system that could monitor who contributed and who availed of the repair service. Furthermore, it was hard to undertake repairs for the lamps as they were merely short-term provisions with shorter warranty periods and not long-term solutions. We also assumed that since this was beneficial to the students, they would take care of the lights and the schools would take care of the battery charging station. But in reality, neither party had complete ownership of the solution, the batteries moved from one student to another as they graduated, and because the solution wasn’t owned completely by one entity it was used carelessly, resulting in more maintenance issues.

How many times have we seen bus stops and cycle stands being vandalised? Or rental electric bikes abandoned in the middle of the road once the charge runs out. The same was happening with the solar lamps under the Light for Education programme. While there is sustained interest from many philanthropic partners who are still keen to fund this project, the interest does not translate towards the replacement or repair of the study lamps – it is always for a new school, more lights and more students.

From an impact perspective as well, the study lamp did not fulfil the complete energy need of the household. It was not the ideal solution for energy access for a home. No one ever asked us what happened to students when they shifted schools, graduated, or during summer holidays when the charging stations in the schools were shut.

But it was definitely, an entry-point solution in many households. As years passed, the households began opting for more permanent solar-based energy solutions. Households started converting from portable lamps to permanent solar lighting solutions that were made possible with financing from banks, microfinancing institutions and the Shri Kshethra Dharmasthala Rural Development Project (SKDRDP). We also phased out Lighting for Education and shifted focus to solar home lighting systems (SHLS). In the new approach, we identified beneficiary students and installed a permanent solar home energy system in their houses, which saw adoption in large numbers. For improved education as well, we moved to partner with students to set up digital education programs with vernacular interactive content- improving interest both from students and teachers.