Peninah Juliet Zalwango sat Primary Leaving Examinations last year at Good Hope Mixed Day and Boarding Primary School in Lwengo District hoping to perform well, though the prevailing study conditions did not favour her. The school is grappling with insufficient supply of electricity, making it hard to provide light for the pupils during study hours.
Zalwango’s hope was to pass in Division One but she is not optimistic of achieving this grade due to the power challenges the school faced during her final term.
“The lights keep going on and off and sometimes when we are in the classroom for preps, the lights go off abruptly and this interferes with our studies,” she laments.
Good Hope Mixed Day and Boarding Primary School in Manja B village, Lwengo District about 30 km from Masaka Town was started by Milly Nalwanga, a retired secondary teacher in 2012.
What inspired her to start this school was the lack of a nearby primary school where the children born within this village could go to study.
The closest school in the area is Ngereko Primary School which is about two kilometres from Manja B village and it is under Universal Primary Education (UPE). However, the school is far away and the services are not up to date.
Since she had good intentions of running the school for children in this village, Nalwanga decided to make it both a day and boarding facility and ensured she provided solar power to enable the pupils to study.
Her main focus is on the vulnerable and orphaned children. As such, there are 36 orphaned children and 41 vulnerable for whom the school offers free education.
The total number of children from Primary One to Primary Seven are 376 pupils and those who pay school fees are charged Shs35,000 and extra Shs6,000 for food.
Those in the boarding section pay Shs200, 000 for school requirements which include a tin of beans from each pupil in the boarding section.
“When we started the school, there was no source of energy and pupils in the boarding section used to read using torches and local lamps which was such a big challenge. I managed to purchase one solar panel at Shs1.4m in 2013 but it has problems with its battery because sometimes the light goes off especially during the rainy season where the sunshine is not strong to enable charging,” she says.
Previously, when we were using lamps, there was a challenge of spending too much on purchasing paraffin but this has since reduced,” she adds.
There are six bulbs for lighting in the selected classrooms and the dormitories but Nalwanga hopes to buy more solar panels so that power can be connected to the staff quarters. This can be used to power appliances such as computers, refrigerator and television for entertaining the children.
“Currently, we can only switch on four bulbs in the evening, excluding security lights but when the children have finished reading during night preps, we switch on one security light and two more bulbs in the girls and boys dormitories to balance the lighting,” she adds.
Her wish is to invest in a solar panel which has a stronger battery such that the teachers are in position to teach using laptops because the Ministry of Education has come up with a policy where all schools are supposed to conduct teaching using power point presentation.
There is need to increase the number of bulbs from eight to 20 computers to aid teaching and ensure better performance of the children.
Obtaining photocopy services has been a challenge because the nearest trading centre is about three kilometres from the main grid is and sometimes they have to go to Masaka Town which is 30 kilometres away.
To set up the school, Nalwanga obtained the financial support from the sale of proceeds from her coffee plantation. To add to the available energy supply, she would like to venture into the production of biogas but the cost of setting up the plant and acquiring animals to generate the waste material, is high.
At the moment, the school is using firewood to prepare meals and in one term, the school purchases four trips of firewood on a Dyna truck, with each route costing Shs130,000.
The school authorities cite the failure to secure a connection to the main electricity grid, as the cause of the school’s inability to register candidates passing in first grade. In the year 2012, when there was no power for lighting, nine pupils passed in second grade, two passed in third grade and two were in fourth grade.
In 2013, there were 10 candidates of whom eight passed in second grade while two were in grade three. Last year, a total of 18 pupils sat primary leaving exams and 16 were in grade two while two were in third grade and they were day scholars.
The school career master, Moses Ondong, is happy to be part of the school staff because for him, it is better to educate orphaned children who will not be haunted by the death of their parents since they will be able to fend for themselves.
His focus is on acquisition of a better energy source which will enable the pupils to perform well.
Unmet need for rural power
The availability of rural electricity in developing countries is affecting development of communities and hindering their involvement in enterprise activities.
As such, one of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) emphasises the need to make rural villages smart in as far as provision of different energy sources. This is a line of action which is being adopted by many governments and different development partners throughout the world.
Funding resources for capacity building, technical assistance and training to roll out the rural electrification programme are estimated to be US$10 million (Shs34bn) and additional estimated cost for miscellaneous activities is US$30 million (Shs104bn) including meeting the supplementary financing needs of service providers for working capital, consumer financing, assistance for the customer portion of the cost of service connection fees, house-wiring and purchases of appliances and productive electricity use equipment.
Against this background, there there are individuals living in off grid areas carrying out their own developments using individually purchased solar panels.
Plan for rural electrification
In Uganda’s Rural Electrification Strategy and Plan (RESP) report covering the period 2013 to 2022 it is emphasised that rural electrification constitutes a critical part of the government’s long range programme to eradicate rural poverty and to foster opportunities for rural Ugandans in every part of the country.