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Improving education with the flip of a switch

For children in Rakhine State, Myanmar, the evolution of solar power is changing their daily lives. But for a large percentage of the population in Myanmar – almost 70% – that do not have access to electricity, living under candlelight has become a normal way of living.

In remote and hard-to-reach areas, a lack of electricity and power can have a profound impact on communities, particularly for children and their access to quality healthcare and education. With limited income, children rely on the few short hours that a candlestick can provide to study and do their homework before the lights go out.

Now as children are increasing their knowledge about climate change and environmental impact, students are beginning to learn about the positive impact of electricity and going solar.

Meet two children – Myo Zin (12) and Ma Wai Wai (14) – living in Taungup Township, Myanmar; they are neighbors and schoolmates. Though they receive the same homework and go to the same school, with the introduction of electricity, their lives have inevitably become worlds apart. 

Learning by candlelight

Like most children in his village, Myo Zin (12) comes home from school in the late afternoon and spends up to 3 hours going over his class lessons and completing his homework.

Myo Zin spends up to 3 hours per day studying by candle light.

But unlike most children, Myo Zin studies under a single candlelight strategically placed next to his bed, a flat reed mat with a single pillow situated in the corner of an open-floor home. Without any electricity in his home, Myo Zin relies on a single, 4-inch long candlestick to provide enough light for his studies.

At times, he is able to stay at his school, and benefit from the after school care programme. Owning one of the few generators in the village, students prefer to stay in the classrooms, so they could access light and continue studying. But by doing so, children stay in the school grounds until about 9pm at night.

A generator is available in the community, but it comes with a steep price. For a monthly cost of $3.50 USD, a family can power a single light bulb in the home for 3 hours a day – 6 to 9pm. For many, that cost is not a reasonable expense.  

For the majority of families living in Taungup township in Rakhine State, life without electricity is normal. 

Studying under solar power

In the same village, just several houses down the dirt path, lives Ma Wai Wai (14), a young girl studying in Grade 7. Unlike Myo Zin, to complete her nightly homework assignments, Ma Wai Wai completes her homework under a light bulb powered by her family’s solar power panel.

“I’m able to do my lessons under this light. I am not dizzy like I was with a candle. It was hard to read then. The solar light supports me during my studying and reading time,” says Ma Wai Wai.

Ma Wai Wai and her friend study under a solar powered light.

"We did not have any electricity support in our village. Instead of using electricity from a private generator and spending more money, I wanted to make a plan. So, I decided to buy solar panel. I could not afford to light the whole house so I used a solar-energy bulb that was placed near my daughter’s bed. She is able to use it for her study time,” explains the mother, Mg Wai Thaung (51). 

A new way of living

Having saved for months on end, Ma Wai Wai’s father was able to buy a solar panel for MMK 40,000 ($4 USD).  The family has taken an interest to solar panels when he learned about the devastating impacts caused by cutting so many trees. His daughter is now part of a climate change programme at school, and they’ve learned that his area continues to suffer from droughts and unexpected rain because the forests near his home continue to be cut and burned down.

 ''I realize the disadvantage of climate change when I become a member of First Aid Team at my school,” explains Ma Wai Wai.

In some countries in South East Asia, Plan International has introduced solar lanterns in communities with the aim of bringing in a clean source of electricity to remote areas. The lanterns have also helped to reduce cost and more importantly, to minimize deforestation in the community.

“My father used to cut down trees for cooking and lighting at night. But I am happy that he is not cutting as many trees and has bought a solar panel for my studies.”

“In the future, I want to light my whole house with electricity,” says Ma Wai Wai.