Sanitation in schools

This blog, written by Wikichild co-ordinator Melinda Deleuze, is a part of the Wikiprogress September spotlight on “Education and skills“. Also, in conjunction with the OECD’s 2013 World Water Week, the post discusses the need for improved water and sanitation in schools and various organizations’ efforts.
It is important to focus on improving school’s sanitation standards, because children are often the most vulnerable to diseases, according to Children also take new ideas and habits back to their homes and families, increasing programs’ impact. 
Only 49% of schools around the world provide drinking water to its pupils and 11% of schools provide water for handwashing. In Kenya, although 63% of schools provided drinking water, only 27% had treated water. Also, while 63% of schools in Kenya have handwashing water available to its students, only 8% of schools have soap. Studies show that handwashing with soap can reduce the risk of diarrheal disease by more than 42% (Curtis and Caincross, 2003). 
Over the past few years, multiple organizations have been working hard to increase the number of schools with drinking water, sanitation facilities and handwashing stations. According to the Sanitation and Water for All project update (April 2013), in the past year, Nigeria mobilized private sector resources for provision of WASH facilities in over 700 schools.
Sustaining and Scaling School Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Plus Community Impact (SWASH+), also known as “WASH in schools”, is a project established to identify, develop, and test innovative approaches to school-based water, sanitation and hygiene in Kenya. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Global Water Challenge, the project has been running since 2006 with the help of CARE, Emory University’s Center for Global Safe Water, the Government of Kenya, Kenya Water for Health Organisation,, and SANA. SWASH+ has worked in 185 primary schools in four districts in Nyanza Province, gathering data, learning about challenges and testing solutions for school water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). SWASH+ provides a base package, which includes:
  1. Provision of water for drinking in safe storage containers
  2. Daily treatment of drinking water with an appropriate technology
  3. Provision of water for handwashing
  4. Daily provision of soap
After the 5-year project, SWASH+ found that:
  • Absenteeism is significantly reduced among girls, with an average of 6 days fewer absences per year.
  • There was a 45% overall reduction of ascaris, and an even greater decrease among girls. Also, the intensity of hookworm infection significantly declined among boys.
  • Unfortunately, there were higher quantities of E. coli bacteria on pupils’ hands who received hygiene, water treatment and sanitation facilities. A study by the European Journal of Tropical Medicine and International Health (2009) found that only 32% of Kenyans wash their hands after fecal contact.
Sapling handwashing, Malawi. Photo: Plan Malawi
Another program working towards increasing drinking water, sanitation facilities and handwashing stations in schools is the Pan African School Led Total Sanitation (SLTS) program. This program is targeting 742 schools in 6 sub-Saharan countries (i.e. Sierra Leone; Ethiopia; Uganda; Kenya; Zambia; Ghana; Niger; Malawi). In each country, the SLTS program follows the same process to facilitate the necessary activities to trigger the schools’ and communities’ progress:
  1. Discuss with the government’s Health and Education sectors, plan at different levels and reach an agreement;
  2. Train teachers who then train students how to use the school latrine and surrounding water and sanitation areas, as well as playing games which help internalize sanitation and hygiene concerns;
  3. Register households for monitoring;
  4. Conduct a school sanitation campaign, cleaning the whole school compound;
  5. Group community into Development Units and establish these groups’ meeting places and times (meetings take place at schools);
  6. Establish a committee of six for each Development Unit who facilitate discussion and prepare a report;
  7. Monitor progress with these reports.
The SLTS program’s 5-year period runs through next year (2014), and this process can be reviewed and changed before the next Pan Africa program begins.
Water and sanitation needs to improve in schools in order to increase school attendance among girls and decrease sickness among all children. Top-down and bottom-up forces are needed to help children become more educated and safer around the world.