The Impact of “Shedding a Light” on Education

Special Focus : Impact-Driven Innovation in Education
Life Skills January 14, 2019

“Our community did not know what the electricity was. We did not know what a child could handle at school. Now, they know how a computer operates”. That is what a leader of a Colombian rural community of Tunay answered when he was asked about how the Lights to Learn (LtL) program affected their lives.

He is part of one of the 556 rural communities fitted with installation of photovoltaic solar systems in their schools through LtL Program. Between 2012 and 2017, the Organization of Ibero-American States for Education, Science and Culture (known in Spanish as OEI) implemented this Program in 13 Latin American and Caribbean countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and Uruguay. [1]

In addition to electricity, the program provides access to internet and ICT equipment to rural schools, teacher training on digital literacy skills, and community development. This is sustained by basic training of community members to be in charge of maintenance of the photovoltaic solar systems and connectivity.

LtL Program is an example of OEI’s technical cooperation projects concerning educational inclusion. It is a joint effort of the public and private sector across the fields of education, energy and ICTs. Thanks to this program more than 25,000 students improved their motivation, school attendance, digital skills and academic results. In addition, their families felt more confident and engaged with the education of their children.

OEI has recently carried out the Impact Evaluation of the LtL Program with substantial conclusions. 88% of the surveyed teachers express that LtL Program contributed to the increase of students’ motivation; 83% of the teachers declare that children attend school more frequently than before, and 76% say that the classroom climate has greatly improved. One of the teachers expressed in the evaluation process, “children are more communicative and self-confident”.

Apart from educational quality in rural areas, the Program contributed to improve the school environment too. Consequently other changes were observed, for instance, thanks to access to electricity students reduced risks on vision loss, enjoyed the chance of making leisure activities and improved food security. Even more, some additional initiatives were implemented thanks to the existence of power supply, such as the installation of electric engines to extract water and its use in school gardens improving students’ wellbeing.

One example of these students is Anny, a nine-year-old girl that lives in a remote community in the heart of the Peruvian Andes. She has to walk two hours and a half every day to go to the school and three hours to go back at home where she works helping her family with the cattle or the farm. Her cousin Gisela, who goes to another school nearby, is very lucky because solar panels and satellite connections were recently installed in her school so she can connect to the world through the Internet. Anny hopes to have the same opportunity in her school soon.

Anny is the main character of Bienvenidos (“Welcome” in English), a short film by the Spanish director Javier Fesser produced by Películas Péndelton within the framework of LtL Program. This short film, which has won 78 awards at several international film festivals, is a pedagogical tool to raise awareness of the reality of education in rural areas of Latin American countries.

Ulises is another boy from a rural community in Cabo Polonio, Uruguay. He feels “happy to be able to use the internet. When I’m searching for something, I feel connected with the world. This has completely changed our lives”. Not only have the lives of these children changed, but their families and the population from their communities have also improved their quality of life. In fact, capacity building, strengthening of affective bonds, internal cohesion, and community commitment to education are results achieved by the program.

Ltl schools have also been suitable places to implement adult literacy training programs. As a mother of a Colombian village of “Las Mercedes” points out “adults were quite behind in learning but thanks to LtL Program we have been able to acquire more knowledge”.

In addition, more than 1,000 teachers were benefited by LtL Program giving them a chance to implement innovative teaching methodologies. In fact, technology inclusion in classrooms, through ICT resources, electrification and connectivity, has had a positive effect on teachers’ motivation and digital skills.

The International Agenda 2030 focused on leaving no one behind, includes the Sustainable Development Goal 4 related to education. Eliminating disparities in education and ensuring equal access for disadvantaged people and for those located in rural areas as LtL Program addressed, should be priority areas of any public education policy. In order to achieve this target, involvement of key stakeholders such as learners, families, teachers, civil society and governments is a must.


[1] All the LtL Program experience was summarized by the Energy without Borders Foundation, a key partner of the Program, in a single report called “Lights to Learn Pilot Program: Achievements and Challenges” in order to be transferred to the international cooperation.