EDC teamed up with Pakistan’s Federal Directorate of Education to make history. Together they built the country’s first-ever solar-powered resource center at a girls’ primary school in Islamabad.
“Electricity is scarce in this country and what we do get is expensive,” says EDC’s Manzoor Wahid. “There are also fluctuations in electricity with no power available at all some days.” This can limit access to computers and other communication technologies for teachers and students in the sector, as well as for those in more remote parts of the country.
Known as the Phulgran Resource Center, it is one of six new resource centers located in primary schools across the Bhara Kau sector of Islamabad. The centers, part of USAID’s Education Sector Reform Assistance (ESRA) program, provide access to technology and other educational resources for area students, teachers, and community members.
The six centers operate as a network across the diverse geography of the Bhara Kau sector, and are the culmination of several years work testing and developing innovative models for the integration of technology into education. Services include phones, computers with e-mail and Internet access, color printers, photocopy machines, scanners, TVs, DVD and CD players, and more than 500 educational books and other print materials. They also provide a meeting space for local community and business groups to use after school hours.
The new center is fully run on solar power with 28 panels bolted on the roof of the school producing an average of 1800 Watts of energy at any moment during day light hours. Thirty sealed gel batteries provide a backup capacity of 5 days so the center can operate continuously, even during the cloudy monsoon season. The solar power panels have a 20 year warranty, and the sealed gel batteries have an 8 year warranty and require no or minimum maintenance. Project staff received support and advice in designing the center from a local energy consultant, Bikash Pandey, of Winrock International.
Each resource center is conveniently located in a school carefully selected for its proximity to a cluster of 10-12 other schools, providing access for large numbers of users. For instance, the primary school where the Phulgran center is housed serves about 560 girls and 18 teachers, all of whom are now able to use the new resources. Ultimately, project staff hope that as many as 2,700 area students and 100 teachers from schools in the cluster will also take advantage of the services. After school hours, the center is also open to the community and is expected to reach up to 5,000 community members.
Each center is designed as a model that can be replicated in other, more remote, regions of the country. “The solar center is a proof of concept for resource centers in other areas where power access is more of a barrier,” explains EDC’s Nadya Karim-Shaw. “We hope that donors will see the potential of supporting resource centers in remote villages where before they couldn’t because of the lack of electricity.”
Although each center operates independently on a day-to-day basis, the network functions on a “hub and spokes” model, where five centers are linked to a central resource center for broader administrative and budget support, the design of specific teaching and learning activities and to ensure quality standards. The network is designed to be self-sustaining, with money generated by each center pooled in support of the entire network. The centers generate income by charging community members for use of the office equipment and Internet access. In addition, the resource center staff offer summer courses for local residents on such topics as computers, art & crafts, and health and charge a small fee for participation. While ESRA covered the set up costs, the government provides the space for the centers free of charge. Starting July 2007, the government will assume the recurring costs for the centers, while the centers themselves will generate enough funds to maintain and upgrade their own equipment and resource materials.
“There is every indication that if we get donor support the government will replicate the model in other regions,” says Karim-Shaw.
Originally published on September 1, 2007