Africa’s Solar-Powered Internet Schools Bridge Digital Divide

Posted June 20th, 2014 at 2:10 pm (UTC+0)
12 comments

Looking to the skies, Google and Facebook are harnessing solar energy to launch fleets of balloons, drones and satellites to connect the world to the Internet. But another tech company has taken a different path, using the sun’s ubiquitous – and free – energy to power new opportunities in health and education in Africa.

As part of its Hope for Children Initiative, launched in 2002, Samsung Electronics has been busy creating fully-functional solar powered Internet schools in African countries where electricity is sometimes unreliable or non-existent.

The project spans 11 countries, including Angola, Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, where the company installed the world’s first Solar Powered Internet School in 2011.

“We realized there was a global need to bridge the digital divide,” said Jinuk Shin, Samsung’s Vice President and head of Corporate Citizenship. “So we set out building better educational environments – using the latest innovative technology – for young people in developing countries.”

A repurposed shipping container, which was turned into one of Samsung's Solar Powered Internet Schools, the first of which was built in South Africa as part of the company's Hope for Children Initiative. (Samsung Electronics)

A repurposed shipping container, which was turned into one of Samsung’s Solar Powered Internet Schools, the first of which was built in South Africa as part of the company’s Hope for Children Initiative. (Samsung Electronics)

The company’s Solar Powered Internet School Project converts repurposed shipping containers into classroom space for up to 21 students equipped with a 50-inch electronic board and Internet-enabled solar powered notebooks and tablets. The school is powered by a solar panel roof that generates nine hours of electricity a day.

Samsung says the panels use both visible rays and ultraviolet rays to recharge, allowing the facilities to continue to operate regardless of weather conditions.

A central sever, which controls all the learning devices, stores the curriculum up to grade 12 for teachers and students to access and discuss.

“The exclusively solar-powered, mobile and completely independent classroom is geared towards increasing accessibility to education and connectivity across Africa,” said Shin. “It is designed specifically for use in remote areas with limited or no access to electricity.”

Students attend a class at one of Samsung Electronic's Solar Powered Internet Schools in South Africa. (Samsung Electronics)

Students attend a class at one of Samsung Electronic’s Solar Powered Internet Schools in South Africa. (Samsung Electronics)

As of 2013, the project has provided education to up to 30,000 students.

Using the same concept, Samsung is providing healthcare services to people with truck-mounted Solar Powered Health Centers staffed by medical personnel.

The centers are “built for use in remote rural areas,” says Shin, “and are intended to eliminate the economic and geographic barriers that prevent people across Africa from obtaining quality medical treatment.”

The mobile units are “on target to treat to more than one million patients in rural and underserved areas in Africa,” he said.

Samsung, local NGOs and governments will collaborate to equip the health centers with ultrasound and xenodiagnosis.

Some of these centers are part of what the company’s recently launched Nanum Villages or Digital Village.

The Nanum Village is a high-tech neighborhood in remote areas of developing countries that provides access to electricity, healthcare and education.

Each village comes with solar-powered facilities that include a health center, a tele-medical center that provides medical services via telecommunications, a solar-power generator, an administration center and an Internet school.

Samsung plans to build a total of 16 Solar Powered Internet Schools in Africa by 2015 – a project that earned it the March 2012 African Energy Prize.

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

12 Responses to “Africa’s Solar-Powered Internet Schools Bridge Digital Divide”

  1. Steve says:

    What a great idea. Shipping containers are stacked up unused. Being able to provide class rooms & medical facilities completely off grid with an almost free structure is an amazing answer & benefit. My opinion of Samsung has really increased immensely. Great article – thank you for reporting on this.

  2. This is the beginning of a great revolution. What a thought and what a great idea. Using both visible and ultraviolet rays is an amazing way to keep the panel operational under any weather condition.

  3. Alamo Educator says:

    This is the germ of a nucleus of a good idea, but can it be scaled? 21 students apiece at 16 schools for more than 50 African countries means an average of fewer than 7 students per country per year can have access. Sadly, this initiative benefitting 336 kids makes next to no impact for Africa’s 1,111,000,000 people.

  4. ADOUM CHERIF says:

    This is a Great Idea. Can someone help me with the contact information for Samsung? We are a non profit with the same goals. Please visit http://www.bigdreamsinc.org to learn more

    Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, is quoted as saying:

    If you give people tools, and they use their natural ability and their curiosity, they will develop things in ways that will surprise you very much beyond what you might have expected.

  5. Rohan Choukkar says:

    I’m not sure this is a very bright idea – these are all-metal containers, if I’m not wrong, and in tropical countries they might get frightfully hot in summer months or even in the afternoons.

  6. David says:

    That would be definitely a great idea -if you listen around, the debate about Africa needing more cleaner energy is ranging and I guess the future is to have devices using such

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Whether you are in a big city or a small village – technology is in your hands, your pocket, your car, your home. It is everywhere. And everywhere, it is becoming us.

Techtonics looks at how technology intersects people’s lives, how it empowers them or traps them in a world increasingly obsessed with technological wonders even as privacy slips through its fingers. It aims to inform, discuss, and hopefully inspire.

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