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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 September 2007, 14:59 GMT 15:59 UK
Fuel for thought in Guinea
Guinean students studying at G'bessi Airport in Conakry
Guinea's G'bessi Airport is filled with students at night time

By Alhassan Sillah
BBC Focus On Africa magazine

Education is supposed to light up a child's life - but resource-rich Guinea is stumbling at the hurdles of bad governance, corruption and misrule, with a knock-on effect for her children in their academic pursuits.

In the capital, Conakry, school children and students find it difficult to study in their homes, particularly during exam time, mainly because of the lack of electricity across the country.

Students have found a way around this by going to public places where standby generators operate around the clock.

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.

Twelve-year-old Mamadou, reading under the lights at the main car park of Conakry's international airport at Gbessia, is among them.

"I have come to revise my notes because there's no electricity in my home," he says.

His friend, Lamarana, who is also frantically swotting, adds: "When my mother buys me a candle at home to study, it doesn't last long, and besides there are many other inconveniences in the area in which I live, especially when there's no light."

Children's needs

Lamarana speaks for many thousands of Guinean students who face the same plight.

The government responds to the crisis by calling it "a sign of the times". Mohamed Samoura, an official in the ministry of education, has an air of resignation in saying that "neither we civil servants nor parents themselves can meet the children's needs."

Indeed, studying at the airport would seem to be a nightmare, with the noise of aeroplanes landing and road traffic. But this does not deter some.

Guinean student reviews his school notes using the car park lights
Many students congregate around the main airport car park
"I hardly ever take notice of the arrival of planes or cars in this place - I am here to study because I wish to become a lawyer after I finish my education," says Mahmoud Sylla, a senior in high school reading for his exams.

But others lament the situation. Camara Ishmael, travelling with his niece to France, says that the situation was different when he was a student.

"We stayed home and revised because there was light in abundance," he says.

The change is due to the deterioration of power supplies, which started in 2003 when the country's economy went into freefall.

The situation has worsened as the years have gone by.

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.

Ageing generators now operate far less than their normal capacity and the country's hydroelectric scheme, based in the provincial town of Garaffiri - which is meant to meet 60% of the nation's power supply needs - operates only partially in the rainy season.

And with falling electricity output have come falling pass rates for those trying to get an education.

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%.

The absence of electricity was one key element that led to nationwide violent protests against the government of President Lansana Conte across the country in January and February this year.

Guinea voices on the crisis
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