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How can a different source of power enable students to keep on learning?

Empower Playgrounds

Marker Ghana, Africa
A unique off-the-grid power solution for schools: children play on a merry-go-round that charges lanterns, which the students can take home and use to study in small groups.
Introduction

What are Empower Playgrounds?

Crys Lee
“What if a portion of the playful energy from these children could be harnessed? What if that energy could become light for their classrooms and homes?”

Ben Markham, Founder, Empower Playgrounds

Many areas in rural Ghana do not have access to electricity. Among the other problems this causes, lack of electricity means that children are unable to study in the evening after it gets dark. Most students spend daylight hours at school and then assist with family chores in the afternoon, so the evening is often their only time to study.

Students must take a competitive entrance exam to be admitted into secondary school, which would give them the opportunity to further their education. Children in rural areas without electricity are at a disadvantage when preparing for this next step. This causes many children's education to be cut short, perpetuating the poverty cycle. 

After retiring from ExxonMobil Research and Engineering, Ben Markham moved to Ghana to volunteer. In rural villages, Ben observed the darkness of homes and school classrooms. He also saw the scarcity of play equipment in schoolyards. In collaboration with a local engineer in Ghana and a US university engineering program, Ben created Empower Playgrounds, based the concept of generating off-the-grid power through merry-go-rounds. This initial idea has since been expanded to bring electricty to rural communities through solar power as well. 

After conducting a needs assessment at schools in Ghana, Empower Playgrounds decided to have the system charge lanterns instead of installing permanent lights at the school. Lanterns provide portable light that students can use to learn wherever they need to study, at school or at home. 

To avoid theft and promote teamwork, lanterns are given a to group of students who live close together. Each group has a leader who is responsible for assembling the group every evening and returning the lantern to charge after they have finished studying. This role rotates among the students. Teachers and communities are educated to encourage them to support the program. A local electrical engineer is on-call in case of any major malfunctions, but teachers and community leaders are trained in basic maintenance.

In addition to the electricity-generating play equipment, the schools involved benefit from a custom science education kit. This helps to enhance the education that rural students receive by using the play equipment as a living lab, teaching students hands-on engineering and technology skills. 

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Intended Outcomes
1314
Views
5 - 18
Age Group
2007
Established
Resources Needed
At least two people are needed to implement a project like this: a teacher and an electrical engineer or solar expert to help set up the equipment and provide training. One merry-go-round costs around $10,000, including a high-tech battery system and durable lanterns. An alternative solution is a simple solar panel to charge the lanterns. Empower Playgrounds recommend spending time getting the entire school staff and community onboard to ensure the best chance of sustainability.
HundrED Criteria
innovativeness
impact
scalability
The innovativeness is in harnessing the energy of children to power light sources that they can use to further their own education. The merry-go-rounds themselves can also be used to teach technology and engineering skills. Children can see the motor inside the merry-go-round through a glass window.
Schools with Empower Playgrounds see an average increase in enrolment of 20%. The playgrounds have facilitated 3.5 million hours of light generation used by 15,000 children. This has resulted in a significant increase in learning retention as children can review work and continue learning at home.
Empower Playgrounds are installed in over 50 schools across Ghana, West Africa and Mali. The merry-go-rounds are more difficult to scale as they require engineering skills to manage, but the simpler solar version is easily scalable.
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Steps

Inspired to implement this? Here's how...

01
Get in touch
For anyone interested in installing a merry-go-round or solar solution through Empower Playgrounds, the first step is to get in touch to find out more.
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02
Find an engineer
An electrical engineer or solar expert is crucial to help collate all the equipment needed and manage the installation.
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03
Get the community onboard
Support from the school and the wider community will ensure the project has the greatest chance of success.
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04
Train students, teachers and parents
Make sure that everyone involved in the project understands how it will work.
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05
Ensure long-term sustainability
Students are responsible for the lanterns themselves, but encouragement and support from parents and teachers is very valuable.
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