Solar energy is helping power a more promising start for school children in Pakistan.
It’s a normal Thursday afternoon in June at GPS Kahi Bazid Khel, a mixed government primary school (GPS) in Kohat, a district in the south of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. Classes are underway and children are in the throes of learning. Lights and fans overhead help to keep classrooms bright and cool as the temperature outside reaches a blistering 45 degrees Celsius.
Two years earlier, the school would have had little choice but to close due to such temperatures. On extremely hot days, conditions were unbearable and even dangerous for school children and their teachers.
“Our conditions here were very harsh. It was very hot out there,” explains Abid Saeed, a teacher at GPS Kahi Bazid Khel. “Only us and the children studying here understand the difficulties we faced.”
In the hot summer months when the school stayed open, Abid would have taken his classes outside under the shade of trees. This affected children’s ability to focus on their studies and led to high numbers of absenteeism.
I did not want to go to school. We would sit outside when we came to school. We were uncomfortable and would sweat a lot." Faryal - Third grade student
Low enrolment and high dropout rates are a problem for many of Pakistan’s government schools. It is especially severe in the southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, where rural schools often lack access to key infrastructure, such as electricity.
In 2019, GPS Kahi Bazid Khel became the first school to gain access to low-cost renewable electricity as part of a groundbreaking project to address poor learning conditions in more than 1,200 schools across the south of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.
“The project is part of concerted efforts to improve primary and secondary education in the region,” says Shahram Khan Tarakai, the Minister of Education for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. “We want to ensure children have the right conditions to be successful at school.”
Improvements in attendance at the selected schools are already being felt, with enrolment rates up by an average of five per cent. At GPS Kahi Bazid Khel, the figure is even greater, with 265 students attending school in 2021 compared to 227 in 2018.
“Now, we like to come to school and study there. When the fan is switched on, we are happy and really feel like studying,” says Faryal.
And for the schools’ teachers, the now cooler and brighter classrooms have made a world of difference, with a noticeable shift in the attitudes and educational results of their students.
“We are also very relaxed while teaching [and] the children come with great enthusiasm. There has been a very positive change in the quality of our education,” says Abid.
While new access to energy in these schools is helping provide a better environment for children to learn, importantly, it is also powered by a sustainable and affordable source. This will offset around 2,250 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year, compared to if the schools had been connected to a more traditional electricity grid.
The urgent need to transition to sustainable and resilient infrastructure in the face of climate change is particularly apparent in Pakistan, which faces a temperature rise significantly above the global average and is becoming increasingly impacted by extreme weather events.
“Pakistan faces major energy deficiencies, especially in rural areas, which limits the potential for equitable development,” says UNOPS Country Manager Marysia Zapasnik.
Developing and supporting sustainable infrastructure and renewable energy technologies is critical for eliminating Pakistan’s energy gap, addressing environmental challenges and improving people’s lives." Marysia Zapasnik - UNOPS Country Manager for Pakistan
Bringing renewable energy to remote areas of Pakistan has not been without its challenges, however. More than 10,000 solar panels had to be sourced and delivered to locations that were extremely isolated.
“Getting solar power to those districts was an eruption of high-tech in a very low-tech environment. It required an incredible amount of effort to train contractors, build local capacity and resolve technical issues,” explains UNOPS Project Manager Benoit Rosenoer.
The effort has been worth it, according to Benoit, as the schools not only now have access to a reliable source of electricity, but have the capacity to operate and maintain the solar systems themselves. “Every effort was made to ensure children at these schools will continue to benefit from better learning conditions for years to come.”
The Solar Schools Project, funded by the United Kingdom's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Saudi Fund for Development, is benefiting some 130,000 schoolchildren and 4,000 teachers across Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.
In partnership with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Elementary and Secondary Education Department, UNOPS managed the procurement, delivery and installation of solar energy systems at 1,240 schools in seven of the province’s most underserved districts – Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan, Hangu, Karak, Kohat, Lakki Marwat, and Tank.
UNOPS also provided training to over 4,000 members of parent-teacher councils on operating and maintaining the solar energy systems as part of the $8.5 million project.