In many areas around the world, lack of reliable, affordable electricity has been one of the biggest barriers to providing technology access to students. Some schools cannot keep the lights on and power a computer classroom simultaneously. Yet research shows that access to technology and devices in the classroom has a highly positive effect on student learning. At Dell we believe that education is a human right and that technology can have a dramatic impact on a child’s engagement, so we strive to find innovative ways of expanding access to technology-enabled learning environments, especially in remote regions with extremely limited facilities and connectivity.Solar powered classroom
One of the ways we’re doing just that is by taking electricity out of the equation, instead combining a more constant energy source — the sun — with energy-efficient Dell Wyse technology to develop solar-powered classrooms, which we call Learning Labs.

In FY16, we expanded the program by installing six new Dell Learning Labs in South Africa (four with our partner Sci-Bono and two with our partner SHAWCO). Note that we also opened two more labs in early FY17—one in South Africa, with Sci-Bono, and one in Cazuca, Colombia (just outside Bogota) with Tiempo de Juego. As of early FY17, this brings our total to 11 labs—nine in South Africa, one in Nigeria, and one in Colombia.

Our solar-powered Learning Labs are a low-cost, energy-efficient mobile classroom developed from a converted shipping container. The solar-powered Learning Lab uses virtualized, cloud-based computing technology to keep each workstation powered with just three to five watts of energy, as compared with 150 watts for traditional PC workstations and is able to pull the energy it needs from solar panels.

Based on our learnings from the pilots, we have made several improvements to the design of the labs in FY15. The newly upgraded Learning Labs now have increased computing power, moving from Wyse zero to thin clients, in order to further enable children in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects including coding and graphics works. The new labs also have been built with fresh air-cooled servers, a better solution for hotter climates, and Dell has brought in a new partner, Sunpower, to provide solar power for all the labs.

Today, it only takes six solar panels to power a classroom of 10 thin client stations for an entire day and well into the evening. Additionally, because the technology uses less moving parts than traditional workstations, its active lifespan is rated upwards of 9 years compared to 3-4 of traditional PC workstations. The thin clients connect to the internet through a cellular, WAN or satellite connection and use multipoint server technology so that a teacher can view each student’s work and individually guide their instruction.

Bringing technology and connectivity to these hard-to-reach rural populations of students opens up an entire world of opportunity for them and their peers around the world. Technology allows these students to connect to others in classrooms around the world, bringing about unique areas of collaboration and co-learning. “I am able to stay up to date with latest news, information and necessary topics, also technology enables me to complete school tasks easier and faster,” said Anusquah Pelston, a student at Windermere High School in Kensington, South Africa. Adds Karen Damon, manager of the SHAWCO Centre, “[The Learning Labs have] taken pressure off of parents in terms of costs to pay the library for usage of computers, and library times do not always coincide with the times the kids needs access to information.”

Michael Collins, Dell’s vice president and general manager of emerging markets, initially brought the solar-powered learning lab idea to the Dell Giving team, which leveraged its strong partnerships with nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations to make the labs a reality. In Nigeria, Dell worked with Computer Aid International to deploy the solar-powered classroom and with Camara to deliver training to the teachers at State Senior High School. In South Africa, our partner SHAWCO provided the training and curriculum.

“This is a prime example of Dell’s youth learning model at work—a combination of our technology and expertise plus local charity partners’ educational knowledge,” said Trisa Thompson, Dell’s vice president of corporate responsibility. “It’s all powered by our team members’ passion. In this case, our employees worked for nearly two years, often in their free time, to make the Nigeria learning lab a reality.”

Dell solar-powered Learning Labs are made possible by Dell’s Youth Learning program, which seeks to close the learning gap by partnering directly with non-profits to provide innovative technology solutions, charitable donations and expertise to address challenges faced by underprivileged youth around the world where Dell operates. Our goal, as part of Dell’s 2020 Legacy of Good Plan, is to help 3 million youth directly and support 10 million people indirectly to grow and thrive by 2020.
Dell Learning Lab