Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Day the Teacher Taught About Fruits

Adisa, a schoolboy of seven years, held the hand of his mother, Lesedi, a public school teacher, as he was closing the door of their home in a village in Sub-Saharan Africa. He carefully wore his rubber slippers, making sure that each was on the correct foot, and began to walk towards the east, following the lead of his mother. They were going to the school nearest to their village, which would take about two and a half hours to reach by foot.

It was 3:30 AM.

At about 6:00 AM, they reached the public school. Lesedi led Adisa to his classroom, then walked a few steps to enter the make-shift teachers’ lounge. Adisa sat beside two classmates, one was nine and the other 10, who still seemed half-asleep, greatly owing to the early hours of the day. As minutes passed, Adisa’s classmates began to arrive, one by one.

By 6:30 AM, as the class was about to start, they were six.

At last their teacher entered the room. It was Lesedi. It should come as no surprise, for in that school there were only three teachers: Lesedi and a colleague, who take charge of the primary schoolchildren, and another one, who handles the intermediate students. That day, Lesedi was supposed to give a quiz on the Alphabet, but since she was not able to print copies of the test paper (electricity supply to the school had been interrupted since the previous week), she decided to teach her students a new action song about fruits instead.

The children enjoyed learning the new song, save for the fact that there were some fruits mentioned that they had not seen before. It was obvious that they struggled to even pronounce them. They asked Lesedi what they were, but not having any visual aid available (the school had no projector nor computers available in each classroom), she told them that she would instead travel to the city to buy some and show them the real fruits the following day.

The bell sounded at 10:30 AM.

It was time for the children to go home. When all the other five students had left the room, Lesedi gently pulled Adisa to a corner and asked him to pass by the central market and buy the fruits that they were asking about. Not having seen them himself, Adisa asked his mother to draw them on a piece of paper, so he would have an idea on how they looked like. “You have to do this, Adisa,” said Lesedi, “I do not have time; I still have another four hours to work.” Adisa agreed and went on his way.

It was 2:30 PM.

Adisa reached home. He pulled the fruits he bought from the central market out of the bag, lined them up on the table, and compared each one with his mother’s drawings. Confident that that he got them all correct, he put them back inside the bag.

Adisa had finished changing his clothes. He carefully wore his rubber slippers to make sure that each was on the correct foot, and went on his way. Instead of heading east, he took the bend that led to the west, to collect firewood and fetch clean drinking water.

Proper education needs electricity 

The story of Lesedi and Adisa, though completely fictional, is a potential reflection of the situation in several schools in the Sub-Sahara. It is not unusual to hear stories of African children travelling hours by foot to reach the nearest school. Schools are built in areas with access to electricity, but, unfortunately, this is not always maintained throughout the existence of the buildings. As power plants break down and electrical infrastructure age, they become less reliable and dependable. As a result, load shedding and power interruptions occur, affecting the overall quality and integrity of teaching and education in the affected schools.

Millions upon millions of African children go to school that lack electricity. Owing to this, classes have to be conducted without the use of modern technologies, like projectors, radios, TVs or computers. Teachers have to cover the lessons without any visual aids, and cannot assign supplementary readings or homework, because the children themselves do not have access to electrical power, let alone to the Internet or to a working computer.

At home, instead of reviewing the lessons for the day, children are forced to collect wood and clean water, because their houses have no stoves or gas ranges to cook and boil water for drinking. This distraction, suggests research, contributes to poor school performance and absenteeism.

The myriad inadequacies of schools in such locations discourage well-trained and well-educated teachers from working in them. As a result, very few teachers take up employment in such institutions, where they find themselves working several shifts, and teaching students of dissimilar ages and grades in one classroom. The proficiency of the students are therefore compromised by the difference in their levels, as most of the time, such a set up makes the global standard curriculum difficult to follow.

One vital key to overcoming such challenges is a reliable and sustainable supply of electrical energy. With electricity, schools can be equipped with innovative teaching aids, and students can enhance their learning with further research or reading at home. Students will no longer be constrained to spend hours collecting fuel and water, and thus will have more time to concentrate on their studies. As the standard of education gradually becomes better, more capable and qualified teachers will be encouraged to hold classes.

Reliable electricity need not wait

Providing electricity to such remote locations used to mean huge investments, decades of waiting, getting caught in a web of approval processes and coordinating numerous teams of professionals. Those days are gone.

Today, technologies such as temporary power plants make it possible to bring electricity to such areas without the troubles associated with past processes.

Rental power plants represent the fastest, most reliable and most cost-efficient solution to electrify villages and towns that remain unconnected to the grid. They are capable of providing the precise amount of energy required at any time and in any place required. They are modular and containerized, so they can be delivered to virtually anywhere in the world and can be installed in a matter of a few days. As they are only rented, they require minimal or no civil work prior to installation, and can be easily demobilized after the service. Thus, there will be no permanent infrastructure to maintain, no aging electrical equipment, and no additional cost to pay the salaries of permanent site engineers.

The next morning…

It was 3:30 AM.

Adisa carefully wore his slippers to make sure that each was on the correct foot. Following the lead of his mother, he began to make his way towards the east. He was calmly walking when all of a sudden, the bag containing the fruits broke. It might have been pierced by a stalk. The round ones rolled quite far from him, and as he and his mother scrambled to pick up the fruits, a man dressed in red and with a pair of shoes stouter than usual handed him a Marula.   


Robert Bagatsing
Altaaqa Global
Tel: +971 56 1749505

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