Saturday, September 22, 2018

Renewable energy empowers students, teachers in island school

THERE is barely room for a teacher’s desk in the computer lab at the only school in Hilotongan, an island barangay west of Bantayan, Cebu. But the enthusiasm of a class of more than 50 students is almost tangible.

“You can feel their enthusiasm to learn since they got to use the computers,” said Exzur Faustino, who teaches computer, English, science and MAPEH (music, arts, physical education and health) at Hilotongan Integrated School (HIS).

The 46 thin client computers in the computer lab and the seven similar units in the elementary e-lab were put to use only in June, when the 50-kilowatt peak (kWp) solar power system donated by Vivant Foundation became operational. With more than enough renewable energy, all classrooms at HIS now have LED lights and at least two electric fans.

“Sang una kun ulan o dag-um, magdala ang mga bata og flashflight kay dulom ang classroom (Before, when there’s rain or it’s cloudy, students would bring flashlights because it would be dark inside their classrooms),” Faustino said.

He said that although only the school has been energized, students are still able to study at night. “They would study or do their homework under the perimeter lights of the school,” he said.

Teaching computer was difficult. The computer teacher had to use his or her laptop to demonstrate its usage and functions to a group of five students. The session would last only an hour as the laptop’s battery would have ran out. The next class will have to wait until the laptop has been charged.

The community has a generator so teachers can charge their laptops. A company donated a solar power module to HIS but the energy it generates is not enough.

HIS is located in the center of the community in the 50-hectare island barangay, which is a 30-minute ride away on an outrigger boat from the Bantayan wharf.

Life is an everyday challenge for island folk whose potable water supply come from Bantayan and costs about P20 for every 5-gallon container. Residents who can afford get to buy purified water, which is also transported from Bantayan on outrigger boats.

Nelita Cervantes, head teacher at HIS, said that teaching was also a challenge before the school was energized. She said that teachers, who are also residents of Hilotongan, had to travel to Bantayan to print test papers, reports and other teaching materials.

“Some teachers requested before to bring their classes to Bantayan so that the students would have the chance to use computers. But we had to consider the risks involved,” she said.

She observed that students also struggled to learn, especially during summer when classrooms become uncomfortably warm.

“These days, students are excited to come to school. After all, the school has electricity and the classrooms are well-lit and well ventilated,” Faustino said.

This school year, 734 students enrolled at HIS, making it the biggest integrated school in terms of population among the un-energized islands in Cebu.

“At Vivant, we pay attention to the current and future needs of our communities. We aim to help schoolchildren in off-grid schools like Hilotongan acquire the knowledge they need to adapt to the future so that they can help their families and their communities,” Vivant Foundation Executive Director Shem Garcia said.

Vivant upgraded the electrical wiring system in the school and donated LED light bulbs, airconditioning systems and electric fans to make the 20 classrooms at HIS conducive for learning. The solar power system includes inverters and batteries that ensure that lighting and appliances continue to function even when there’s cloud cover and that perimeter lights remain on at night.

HIS was chosen as pilot beneficiary for the off-grid electrification component of Vivant’s Project Liadlaw.

Project Liadlaw also includes integrating solar power into the Electrical Installation and Maintenance (EIM) tech-voc curriculum of Bantayan National Senior High School (BNSHS). BNSHS is the first senior high school in the country to offer EIM-Solar.

“The maintenance of the HIS solar PV system will be part of the on-the-job training of BNSHS EIM students, preparing them for a growing sector in the country's energy market," Garcia said.

Vivant Foundation worked with the Department of Education and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority to develop a solar power installation and maintenance module that was integrated into the EIM track at BNSHS. To enable the teachers to effectively teach solar power installation and maintenance, Vivant organized a training for EIM instructors of BNSHS and Mandaue City Comprehensive National High School, which also received tech-voc teaching equipment and tools from the foundation. (PR)