Breaking free: how solar energy is changing lives

Students in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s public schools may no longer have to study in the stifling heat without electricity
Published May 20, 2016

Located 16 kilometres away from the city of Peshawar and close to the border of Khyber Agency, Government Higher Secondary School Shiekhan is an oasis of greenery — a lush lawn and fresh row of flowers and plants greet visitors as they enter the building. But what is even more unusual is that in an area known for severe load-shedding, the classrooms all have electricity, and the students and teachers seem to be going about their day.

This wasn’t always the case. The well-manicured lawns have been made possible due to solar-powered tube wells. The round-the-clock electricity is because of the solar panels installed on the roof. Both things have been made possible thanks to an initiative by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to install renewable energy at public schools.

Plans are underway to install similar solar panels at all government schools in the province. But the government has a long way to go if that’s the goal: according to the Education Department, there are a total of 28,178 public schools in 25 districts of KP, and so far solar panels have been installed at more than 400 schools.

The solar-powered system provides enough electricity for 40 fans, 40 lights, security cameras, and computers as well as a tube well.

Mr Atif Khan, KP minister for elementary and secondary education, states that while the project has currently only been launched in Peshawar and Malakand districts, it is being extended to other districts of the province as well.

He points out that this programme is one way to improve the experience and quality of education in the province. “There is an energy shortage in Pakistan and everybody faces severe load-shedding. It becomes difficult for students and teachers in the summer especially [due to] the scorching heat, so we have decided to resolve this issue,” he says

And indeed, for the faculty and students of Shiekhan School, the project has changed the way they spend time studying and teaching. For instance, Abdul Sammad, a student of class 9, always had a hard time focusing on his lessons when load-shedding occurred at his school, especially during the hot summer days.

When Sammad would pack for school, there were two things he would never forget to bring: his handkerchief (to wipe off sweat) and drinking water. But now he can pay more attention in class and not have to worry about when the electricity will shut down. “It’s much easier to study now,” says Sammad.

Another student, Muhammad Nisar, said that the school’s green environment made him feel at peace. “When I leave school [and head] home, I’m waiting for the next morning. [I’m thinking when will] morning come and when will I go to school again? Four fans and four lights in my classroom run without stopping, I can concentrate on my studies, and I no longer sweat,” he says.

Mr Pervaiz Marwat, the principal of Higher Secondary School Shiekhan, says that for the school to have electricity in an area that endures 23 hours of blackouts is life transforming.

"Even though there is still no electricity in my area, going to school provides some relief for my children and now they can concentrate on their studies." — Mr Fazalullah

“Due to unavailability of electricity, the schools’ students and teachers had been facing several problems but after [we] put in the solar-powered system, the problems resolved,” he adds.

There is 24-hour electricity in the school, no shortage of water, and other systems now run smoothly. The solar-powered system provides enough electricity for 40 fans, 40 lights, security cameras, and computers as well as a tube well.

In short, Marwat points out, the solar system provides a happy and green environment to the students, an environment in which they are able to continue their education without any external hurdles and problems.

Marwat personally feels that the Rs400,000 price tag that comes with the installation is worth it, and encourages every principal to allocate school funds for it. “[We] face curfews, security threats and [this is a] ‘backward’ area. If solar panels can be installed here, it is possible in other areas of the province,” he adds.

School teacher Mr Dilshad agrees with Marwat and says that he was also delighted with the solar- panel installations — he, too, feels it has changed the classroom dynamics and environment for the better. “Due to the hot weather in the summers and darkness in the classrooms [due to blackouts] we were not able to teach properly,” he says.

“No drinking water was on hand, no greenery — which you now see in the school — was there, but after the installation of the solar panels, we feel at ease; thanks to the KP government and our principal … we resolved [this] issue,” he adds.

It’s not just students and faculty who appreciate this project — parents and residents do as well. Mr Fazalullah says that even though there is still no electricity in his area, going to school provides some relief for his children and now they can concentrate on their studies.

“The future of our children can be saved if the government continues to launch such plans,” he points out.

Photos by the author | Illustrations by Fahad Naveed