Why are these students studying under streetlights?

This photograph, via Paul Romer, shows students in Guinea who go to the airport to study for exams because they don’t have electricity at home.

The BBC reports that petrol stations, airports and even spaces under security lamps outside upmarket homes have become pockets of learning, where determined students are to be found in large numbers.

Access to light is a serious problem due to the “deterioration of power supplies, which started in 2003 when the country’s economy went into freefall:

The national power company, Electricite de Guinee, provides light to consumers on a rotational basis of 12 hours a day – but even so, these schedules often prove erratic, with dozens of outages before dawn…..

Between 1999 and 2002, schools in Guinea had a modest pass rate of 30-35%. Since 2003, that has dropped to between 20 and 25%”.

Paul Romer says he displays this photograph on his web site because “images of extreme deprivation often obscure the fact that many of the world’s poorest residents attempt to help themselves, only to be stymied by bad rules”. He says some of the rules that “keep people in the dark are:

  • Electricity is provided only by a government-owned firm
  • Government employees can’t be fired, regardless of how poorly they do their jobs
  • The low subsidized price of electricity for the lucky consumers who have access is determined by political considerations”

2 Comments on “Why are these students studying under streetlights?”

  1. […] Amazing picture. HT Alan Davies at The Melbourne Urbanist […]

  2. Zuko says:

    There’s a bit more. Romer leads from this image and this problem to his Charter Cities idea — basically (as I understand it) that a foreign govt (or foreign public-private venture) is invited to take over an area of land and build a new city, where these ‘bad rules’ are replaced by the better rules of the foreign country. The students under the streetlights could vote with their feet and live in the new city.

    I’d like to see Australia try this in PNG. Neo-colonialist yes, but not so much if the PNG govt agreed. Certainly you could do it with ports, to start with.


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