Solar-powered computers to accelerate digital literacy in Madagascar

solar power comuters

A new partnership aims to deliver solar-powered computers to 10,000 children a year across schools in Madagascar and East Africa. The computers will go to schools that do not have access to reliable power, helping to reduce a gulf in digital literacy arising from a lack of energy access.

The collaboration brings together Aceleron, a UK developer of circular economy lithium-ion batteries, and Jirogasy, a Madagascar-based start-up.

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) estimates that 230 million jobs across Africa will require some level of digital literacy by 2030, translating to 650 million training opportunities and a $130 billion market. And yet across Sub-Saharan Africa, only 35% of schools have access to electricity, 89% of learners do not have access to household computers and 82% lack internet access. Globally, 230 million children attend primary schools without electricity, compromising educations and development outcomes.

The Jirodesk 2, designed and produced in Madagascar, will support and enrich learning, as well as equip younger generations with the vital digital skills to build the continent’s digital economic future.

Yann Kasay, CEO of Jirogasy and the French Africa Foundation’s Young Leader of the Year 2019, said: “Every part of this project is championing economic growth in East Africa. The computers are built here in Madagascar, supporting the development of local digital and engineering jobs. The batteries are enabling the growth of a skilled green jobs economy in Kenya. Together, they are delivering key educational resources to Malagasy schoolchildren, boosting digital literacy and offering a route for largely non-electrified communities to connect to new economic opportunities.”

Expanding digital learning in previously unconnected communities will open up huge opportunities. As COVID-19 forces more businesses and schools online, the World Economic Forum highlights that is more important than ever that transferable digital skills are incorporated into education curriculums.

The batteries that power the device are built in Kenya from repurposed waste solar lanterns and lithium-ion battery cells.

The batteries that power the Jirodesk 2 are built in Kenya from repurposed waste solar lanterns and lithium-ion battery cells. UK-based Aceleron works with local technicians in Nairobi to develop and build the high quality, second-life batteries, creating a local workforce of battery manufacturers and engineers, and empowering people with skilled jobs.

Jirogasy has selected Aceleron as its delivery partner because of the African-built credentials of its batteries, and the shared mission to advance green economic growth in East Africa.

“Using a solar home system to turn on a light is one thing, using it to power education is taking this technology to the next level,” said Amrit Chandan, CEO of Aceleron.

“These computers can change lives. Circular economy batteries can be the cornerstone of localised circular economies – wherever the batteries are, they drive the growth of skilled green jobs. This project is evidence that clean technology is about so much more than reducing emissions, it’s about improving people’s lives.”

Aceleron’s unique batteries are designed with the circular economy in mind. They can be taken apart, serviced and upgraded, so if one component breaks, the individual piece can be easily replaced. Most other batteries are welded or glued together, meaning that they would normally have to be thrown away when a component breaks. As the computers will be operational in often difficult to reach schools, the ability for all components to be easily accessed and fixed at the schools will embed the systems with additional resilience.

The pilot stage of this project will see seven schools equipped with computers across Madagascar in 2021, with a further 20 in 2022. Long-term, Jirogasy is aiming to provide access to the Jirodesk 2 to 10,000 Madagascan students per year and to build an additional production site in Kenya, expanding the reach of this technology.

Programmes are already underway in Madagascar to bridge the digital divide. The World Bank, for example, has supported a communications infrastructure project to connect rural communities to ICT services. With the Jirodeck 2, Jirogasy and Aceleron are ensuring that no community gets left behind and all Malagasy schoolchildren have access to the digital skills that will advance their economic futures.

The computers will come equipped with education software and resources, courtesy of French-Malagasy NGO AccesMad. Jirogasy and AccesMad have partnered previously to install 24 computers into four Madagascan secondary schools, delivering digital education to thousands of students. The company has also worked with multiple NGOs throughout 2020 to provide its computers to remote medical clinics in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Olivier Ralaiharivonison, Director of AccèsMad, states: “We are happy to host and support Jirogasy’s Jirodesk 2 to support our long-lasting mission of electrifying high schools and other academic institutions in remote areas. The engineering team has enhanced the original Jirodesk to develop a v2 and address our expectations. It is a true success and will be a valuable asset on the field.”

Chandan added: “Clean technologies are breaking down barriers in Madagascar and across Sub-Saharan Africa, from enabling education, to growing livelihoods and building economies. Thanks to advancing solar and storage technology, we can accelerate digital literacy and open up economic and job opportunities that were previously unheard of to many communities. Here, more than anywhere else, we are seeing the true power of the green revolution.”