PASCH | Article
Kaaga Girls' High School Solar Project
a view of the solar panels on the school's administration block © Julian Manjahi
It has happened to all of us before. There you are, doodling on a notebook in school instead of listening, supposed to be learning something that you know is important. Your teacher has told you as much. It will probably even show up in the exam at the end of the term. But that does not make much of a difference at three in the afternoon, when you are sleepy from lunch and the concept being explained to you is as abstract as…well, quadratic equations, or inorganic chemistry.
But then the teacher says something about the sun, and you perk up. You know what that is, obviously. You bask in it every day after lunch, which is part of the cause of your sleepiness. The teacher says that the sun can power all kinds of objects around you, as an alternative to electricity, which is quite expensive, or wind. Though the concept is a bit less amorphous because the sun is all around you, you might feel that you need to see more, physically, to truly understand what is being described. It remains inaccessible; all of it is theory—nothing you have really seen before.
As anyone knows, there is a world of difference between being taught about, say, Mount Kenya and its topography, and seeing it with your own eyes. In the same way that being taught about solar power—for high school kids and even some adults—feels easier to grasp when it is right in front of you.
a brief explanation by Ashish H. Patel, director of Sunash Electricals Ltd, on how the solar inverters function © Julian Manjahi
This is why Goethe-Institut decided to support Kaaga Girls High School, a PASCH School in Meru, for a number of reasons, but mainly for the students to understand what exactly solar power is, and what the production of solar energy entails. Funding is a big factor with this project, but so is exposing students to the larger idea of renewable energies. If this particular project goes well, hopefully it will be able to expand and be duplicated in the other schools under Goethe-Institut’s PASCH programme, and enable these schoolchildren to see their textbooks come to life. The PASCH programme connects two thousand schools worldwide to schools in Germany, and conducts numerous inspiring projects to the benefit of students studying German and the society.
The project hopes to involve all the interested students and allow them to participate, but priority will be given to students studying German. The project is being housed in the school’s German Room, but the visible parts of the project will be on the roof of the administration block. The project also aims to create awareness, and hopefully save on the school’s electricity costs. After installation, the solar panels should be able to power the German Room, some parts of the administration block, as well as some of the school’s IT equipment.
a close up view of the solar panels © Julian Manjahi
The benefits of solar energy are numerous, and have a pretty solid footing in Kenya already: there is a whole department under the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority, for example, tasked with figuring out how to “exploit renewable energy sources to provide energy required to complement the realization of Vision 2030”, and “accelerate transformation of our country into a rapidly industrializing middle-income nation by the year 2030”. According to their website, in spite of the fact that Kenya gets a lot of sun, only one percent of Kenya’s solar energy has been tapped. A lot of that comes from private industry players, who have created solutions that allow the typical Kenyan to use the power of solar—through solar television sets, provision of solar panels, solar refrigerators, and even solar air conditioners. This is particularly useful for a rural population that has plenty of access to the sun, but no connectivity to the national electricity grid.
This means that this is something essential for the country, if not the world. The environmental footprint of solar power, in a world that has an increasingly detrimental effect on itself, cannot be understated. And of course, the younger you start the next generation on the idea that this is the way forward, the better.
In the beginning James Njogu, the project coordinator, would have to come down to the school and get the lay of the land, but now, as the project builds up and contractors are sourced, he will have to be at Kaaga at least once a week in his capacity as coordinator. After a few weeks, the cabling, inverters and panels will be up and rolling. The girls will be able to see the panels working, and see the practicalities of what they have been waiting for; they will learn more about it, and spread that knowledge to their parents, friends and community.
“The next frontier is solar energy,” explains James. “The amount of energy that hits the earth from the sun in an hour is enough to power the whole of the earth for an entire year. So, it is important to try and get that desire, that curiosity, started in the students at a young age, because that might be the key to figuring out the major issues we have at the moment, like global warming!”
He continues, “It is even more urgent to start it at this point in time, with children who are learning, who can get ready to interact and see the value of such a system and the science behind it. The most important objective is creating awareness in the learners about renewable energy and spark interest and innovation. These kids are the next generation of families, homeowners and businesspeople. This early exposure to the idea of renewable energy will be a great foundation to have.”
students during a presentation about renewable energy, afterwards was a Q&A session © Julian Manjahi
Maybe if we had had a little more practical teaching like this when we were growing up, we would understand the world around us better. Seeing lessons in action makes a huge difference for grasping slightly complicated or technical theories. But when we bring the sun closer to us—in a way that does not degrade the planet, to harness its power, and make it work for us—then education feels a lot less abstract , and saving the environment one high school at a time does not seem like such an impossible dream after all.