Geographies in Depth

This school-in-a-bag helps educate the most remote areas

Laptop powered by solar laptop

In low-income developing nations only 6% of children have access to the internet at home. Image: EEA/Tespack

Victoria Masterson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Education, Gender and Work

  • The Solar Media Bag has been trialled in Uganda, Ethiopia and Mozambique.
  • School teachers in rural areas can use it to turn any space into a classroom.
  • The bag can charge laptops and phones and carries projectors and speakers.
  • Access to education is also an issue for developed countries like Australia, where students can live across vast remote areas.

No electricity means no access to an education that meets modern standards.

That’s the reality for millions of school children in remote communities and developing areas of the world. Without power, there’s no access to the internet which is now central to a good education. These children miss out on opportunities to learn from videos, digital tools and data found online.

As well as missing out on internet learning in school, more than 1.3 million children aged 3 - 17 have no internet connection at home either, according to UNICEF.

Only 6% of children in low-income countries have internet access at home.
Only 6% of children in low-income countries have internet access at home. Image: UNICEF

Globally, 33% of children have access to the internet at home to support their studies. But in low-income developing nations, that figure falls to just 6%. School-aged children in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are the most affected, with around 9 in 10 children having no internet access.

Digital education for all

This could all change with the launch of a new solar-powered backpack that has been trialled in Uganda, Ethiopia and Mozambique.

The Solar Media Bag (SMB) allows rural teachers or trainers to “turn any room or place into a classroom,” says Mario Aguilera, chief executive of Finland-based startup Tespack.

“With this tool, children even in rural regions can be educated with the latest information and not depend on the grid to get an up-to-date education.”

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Tespack has developed the backpack in collaboration with Plan International, a humanitarian organization founded in Spain in 1937 that advances children's rights and equality for girls.

In a video on the launch of the Solar Media Bag, Martin Ogwang, project manager for Plan International Uganda, says: “How to show a video in a rural area where there is no electricity, no internet connectivity and no devices – nothing like that. That was the problem.”

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Powered by the sun

The bag is fitted with solar panels that provide up to 300W of power to charge mobile devices such as laptops and phones. Projectors and speakers are included, so training and workshops can be delivered in any off-grid regions.

The bag also uses ‘internet of things’ technology – the world of connected devices – and satellite-based Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to track all devices, monitor energy generation data and help workers stay safe with anti-kidnapping features.

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Millions excluded from education

About 260 million children and youth were out of school in 2018, according to United Nations figures. And more than half of all children and adolescents worldwide are not meeting minimum proficiency standards in reading and mathematics.

260 million children were not in education in 2018.
260 million children were not in education in 2018. Image: United Nations

That was before COVID-19, which has had a devastating impact on education.

More than 168 million schoolchildren globally missed out on learning in class as the pandemic shut schools for almost a year, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Access to education isn’t just a problem in developing countries.

In rural Australia, for example, government-funded ‘schools of the air’ deliver education remotely to students living thousands of miles apart in settings including cattle stations, mining camps and tourist destinations. Classes were traditionally delivered by radio. This has now been replaced by telephone and internet technology.

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Geographies in DepthHealth and Healthcare Systems
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