Cost-Effectiveness of Solar-Powered LED Reading Lamps in Burkina Faso

Cost-Effectiveness of Solar-Powered LED Reading Lamps in Burkina Faso

Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5043-5.ch011
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Abstract

A small-scale project to induce more reading among 5th and 6th graders in rural Burkina Faso by providing them with solar-powered LED lamps indeed increased reading for students in villages without preexisting libraries, but did not affect reading capabilities. The research aimed to establish the magnitude of effects after one year when 10-14 year-olds in rural African villages with small community libraries were given solar-powered lamps for night reading. The effects measured were reading habits (how much did students read?) and reading capabilities (how well could students read and comprehend what they read?). Once village effects were controlled, the lamps had statistically significant effects on reading habits for students in villages without preexisting libraries. The effect sizes were modest, ranging from .20 to .25. There were no effects on reading test scores. A cost-effectiveness metric to use for comparing with other studies of education interventions then is that expenditure of $1 per student on a solar-powered LED reading lamp distribution program generated about a 1% increase in reading, with no apparent effect on reading capabilities.
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Introduction

A possible hindrance to encouraging reading, deepening literacy and enhancing the quality of primary education in rural Africa is the lack of electricity in the majority of villages. For sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, only about 30% of the population has access to electricity. Few schools or other public buildings in rural areas have electricity or solar panels to provide evening illumination. At home, most families rely on kerosene lamps or small fires for carrying out chores. The light available is usually limited and does not extend beyond a small perimeter. Without light, students are severely hampered in their capacity to study or read after school. So while school enrolment rates have risen rapidly across the continent as countries strive to meet the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education, perceptions of stagnation in the quality of schooling outcomes have become widespread. Progress appears to have been slow in attaining goals of “critical literacy,” where readers go beyond surface readings of texts, “deep literacy,” where readers bring understanding of texts into the mental processes of imagination and generating connections to other cultural constructs, and a “reading culture,” where the practices and intentions of fostering reading are embedded in everyday behavior of parents, teachers and policymakers.

There has been little quantitative research in rural Africa on the effectiveness of rural electrification in enhancing schooling quality, critical literacy, deep literacy and a reading culture. A number of studies suggest that electrification and access to evening light has profound social consequences, not all of them positive (The World Bank 2008, Winther 2010).

Solar-powered lamps might alleviate one of the many constraints on reading, and generate considerably more reading. A virtuous circle might ensue: as students read more, reading becomes easier and more rewarding, and students understand more and succeed in school, and that leads to even more reading. Most children are kept occupied with school and chores during daylight hours, so solar-powered LED lamps would enable them to read during the few hours of leisure time they have each day – after dark. Students could continue their studies at home, without having to travel back to school after hours and without requiring their parents to supply costly and unsustainable kerosene. Providing students with a cheap, portable source of light would allow them to review their exercises and study for exams, as well as read for pleasure in their own homes.

This paper reports on a small-scale project to induce more reading among 5th and 6th graders in rural Burkina Faso by providing them with solar-powered LED lamps. The research aimed to establish the magnitude of effects after one year when 10-14 year-olds in rural African villages, with small community libraries, were given solar-powered lamps for night reading. The effects measured were reading habits (how much did students read?) and reading capabilities (how well could students read and comprehend what they read?).

Two measures of reading habits were used:

  • 1.

    The number of books the student said they had read in the previous 30 days, and

  • 2.

    The number of book titles the student wrote down, out of a maximum of three.

For the 525 students who were seen in both May 2011 and April 2012, students indicated they had read an average of 1.55 books in the previous 30 days, and listed 1.20 titles (out of a possible total of 3). Many students (42%) indicated they had read no books, and mostly the same group (42%) listed no book titles. Once village effects were controlled for, the lamps had statistically significant effects on reading outcomes. Students who received lamps read .30 more books in the previous 30 days, could list .22 more titles, and had higher probability by .09 of either reading books or listing titles. The effect sizes (estimated effect divided by the standard deviation of the outcome) were modest, ranging from .15 to .25.

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