(Picture Credit: Praveen Kumar)

Lack of access to adequate electricity is a hardship for school-going children in rural poor households of India. Rural poor areas are deprived of a consistent electricity supply sometimes for 12 to 14 hours a day, making it difficult for children to study at home. Children are constrained to use pernicious kerosene oil lamps or not study at all during the late evening or at night. Children’s academic performance is affected by the absence of electricity, which can result in loss of interest and higher dropout rates from school. Further, children’s health is affected by the carbon monoxide that is emitted from kerosene lamps. Today, more than 69 million children in India rely on “dirty” fuels, such as kerosene, as their main lighting source. Kerosene oil usage for lighting and cooking fuel is detrimental to human health, especially for women and children who are often exposed the most.

        A solution to this problem is widespread availability of decentralized, affordable, reliable, and clean energy sources. Portable solar lighting devices, such as solar lamps or lanterns, are a promising and affordable lighting source for basic household needs, especially for rural poor households that are unable to access grid-based electricity. Since it is known that studying at home after school improves children’s knowledge retention, it is suggested that insufficient night time lighting and unreliable and dim lighting may be an important root of the problem of children’s reduced educational outcomes. Along with that, the children who use kerosene and biomass fuel for studying purposes report eye strain and fatigue due to the poor lighting conditions in their homes.

        Our ongoing study demonstrates the utility of decentralized solar lamps for children in these rural poor households of India. This study is part of a larger project (Million Solar Urja (energy) Lamp Program (MSP)) funded by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) of the Government of India, and is jointly implemented by Boston College and the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (Mumbai), India. The study explored the association of solar lamp dissemination among children of poor households and the impact on study hours in the evening. We analyzed a sample of the data collected from the MSP project implemented in four states of India. The survey of 873 rural poor households in the states of Maharashtra, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan reveals that use of solar lamps increased the total study time (TST) per day during dark hours from about 88 to 118 minutes. The study also shows increase in study time particularly for girls. Before the introduction of these solar lamps, girls’ study time was relatively lower than that of boys’. Gender norms dictate that girls in these households are more involved in domestic work, while boys have more opportunity to focus on their studies at home. However, after the adoption of the lamps, the girls’ study time increased by about 32 minutes per day while the boys’ study time only increased by about 27 minutes per day. Total kerosene expenditures in these households decreased from 63 to 45 Indian National Rupee (INR) per month and total electricity expenditure reduced from 250 to 235 INR per month.

        What are the key takeaways from this study? First, dissemination and implementation of solar lamps improve study time for children, especially girls. Second, reduction in kerosene usage could reduce household air pollution exposure, with further research needed to explore this relationship. Third, off-grid solar lamps have great potential for rural poor households in underdeveloped countries with low or no access to grid-based electricity.

Ishita Tripathy is a high school senior passionate about issues on environmental justice and advocacy, climate change communication, and volunteering for community development. She assists Dr. Praveen Kumar on his research projects on environment and climate change. Praveen Kumar is an Assistant Professor at the Boston College School of Social Work with research interests in energy poverty, and environmental justice, particularly in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.