Education

Solar Lamps Brighten Schools for Indian Teens

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

An Indian boarding school initiative for female teens has been hindered by electricity blackouts. Now the government is promising new, improved facilities and IKEA is offering solar lamps to light the way in the meantime.

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But darkness is giving way.

"Now the government has sanctioned money for these schools to have their own buildings and, in a couple of years, they will be shifted to new venues with better facilities," says Lalita Pradeep, a state worker.

IKEA Stepping In

In the meantime, IKEA is helping to light the way.

Through a partnership with UNICEF, the Swedish maker of interior-design and household products is donating 60,000 solar lamps to Uttar Pradesh. In the first phase of the project 2,000 lamps will be distributed to the state's 454 schools; providing one lamp for every four girls.

"In June 2009, it was decided to keep aside one solar lamp on each lamp sold from outlets anywhere across the world and make it available to UNICEF, which is working to promote children's education," says Vandana Verma, a social-responsibility advisor to IKEA, which has been commissioning products from artisans in the state since 1998.

Lamps that go to India and Pakistan are equipped with long-lasting batteries designed to perform in very high temperatures.

The additional light will help facilitate the schoolgirls' education at the boarding schools set up by the national project. The schools focus on a fragile age group: young female teens.

In a 2009 state study researchers found that about 10 percent of all children--boys and girls--in the age group of 11-14 had dropped out, often to help their families earn a living. By the time they had reached 15 or 16, the dropout rate jumped to 24 percent.

Sixty percent of the dropouts were female; 90 percent came from the most marginalized castes and they were mostly first-generation school goers.

Teachers say it's not easy for rural communities to decide to send their daughters to residential schools.

"Initially, we had to conduct house-to-house counseling and organize motivational camps to make people understand the benefits of these schools," says Vikram Maurya, a teacher in the program.

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Alka Pande is a Lucknow, India-based freelance journalist who writes on issues related to development, politics, the girl child and so on. She has worked with leading national dailies, including The Indian Express and The Times of India.

This article is adapted from one that was released by the Women's Feature Service. For more articles on women's issues log on to: http://www.wfsnews.org

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