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Children and sanitation: Inputs to the New Education Policy 2016

By Shireen Kurian

Sanitation is more important than independence. – Mahatma Gandhi Ji
He made cleanliness and sanitation an integral part of the Gandhian way of living. His mission was total sanitation for all.

I want to make a beginning today itself and that is all schools in the country should have toilets with separate toilets for girls. Only then our daughters will not be compelled to leave schools midway. Our parliamentarians utilising MPLAD fund are there. I appeal to them to spend it for constructing toilets in schools for a year. The government should utilise its budget on providing toilets…… This target should be realised within one year with the help of state governments and on the next 15th August, we should be in a firm position to announce that there is no school in India without separate toilets for boys and girls.” – Narendra Modi, Prime Minister Independence Day, August 15, 2014

Shikshagiri: Children’s voices for inputs to the draft New Education Policy was a panel of 16 children living in conditions of marginalisation who came together on a common platform hosted by Praxis and its partners to suggest, from their own experience, what children needed from a New Education Policy. Among the themes the children focused on were sanitation and cleanliness of schools. The challenges that children face in accessing hygienic school infrastructure and facilities was one of the points raised during discussions. This thematic paper will focus on the panel’s deliberations on the issue.

Similar thoughts on school sanitation were echoed by Anisha and other panellists, they said the need of the hour to maintain cleanliness and hygiene in schools is

  • Provision clean drinking water in schools
  • Dustbins must be provided in classrooms
  • Washrooms must be cleaned daily
  • Sweepers should be there in all the schools
  • Provision of water for personal hygiene

The overall view is that more employees are required for toilet and cleanliness. There should be separate toilets for boys and girls. There should be more safai karamchari and activity of safai karamchaari should be monitored. Water should be provided and children’s toilet should be cleaned regularly. There should be no separate toilet for teacher and children. There should be a better arrangement for drinking water and the tanks holding drinking water should be cleaned regularly. They feel that the upper caste that have filled up the job posts of cleanliness workers are not doing their work.

What actions need to be taken up to maintain cleanliness in the schools? Anisha: The children discussed at length about the importance of cleanliness in schools. Anisha mentioned that while government offices employed safai karmacharis to clean the premises, schools often did not have them. Some other children added that the students ended up having to clean the classrooms. The state of toilets in school came up several times during the discussions. Children felt that schools should employ safai karmacharis as well as dustbins. They felt the quality of dustbins would improve if the teachers and the students used the same toilets. However, they wanted separate toilets for boys and girls. Anisha said that the washrooms must be cleaned daily and sweepers should be empoyed in every school.

Aamir says, “Toilet saaf karna chahiye jo class ke paas hote hain, bachcha padhai karey ki badbu pe dhyaan de.

Lathesh says, “Gandigi hum karte hain ki sarkaar,zyaadatar logon ki soch yeh hain ki kachra uthengey toh humare izzat kum ho jaaegi, zyaadatar logon ki thinking yehi hain.

Mukul: About      facilities, Mukul   says there is no safe drinking water and washrooms always stink in the schools.

Aamir: Recently, he has come to know about the low quality of drinking water in slum          cluster   in Delhi and sees it a critical issue to be addressed. When asked about education, he said that   private  schools are like a hotel  while Government schools lack basic infrastructure.

Anisha: loves     going to school. She       likes mathematics and science    but hates social studies. She says that when she started going to school it was dirty but is now cleaner.

India’s strong commitment to providing schools with adequate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities is supported by legislation and is championed by the Prime Minister and supported by the Right to Education Act (2009) which necessitates ensuring drinking water and sanitation facilities in schools. The national flagship programmes, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and the Nirmal Gram Puraskar also support this requirement. The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) national sanitation guidelines provide for additional sanitation facilities in schools, including incinerators for menstrual hygiene management through the Nirmal Gram Puraskar (NGP) incentive. Following are the key policy initiatives by Government of India. Constitution

Article 21-A “free and compulsory education of all children in the age group of six to fourteen years as a Fundamental Right”.

Legislation Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009.

The RTE Act 2009 provides a legally enforceable rights framework with certain time targets that Governments must adhere to. The Schedule to the RTE Act lays down the norms and standards (including drinking water and sanitation) for a school building. A school building has to be an all-weather building comprising at least one classroom for every teacher, barrier free access, separate toilets for boys and girls, safe and adequate drinking water facility for all children.

Supreme Court has issued directive to all states to prioritise school toilets and drinking water. It is noteworthy that the suggestions made by panellists align with the mandate of the Swacch Bharat Swacch Vidyalaya Mission. The commitment was to provide adequate sanitation facilities by 2015. However, in the recently held GLP the panellists highlight that the stark ground reality is far from Gandhiji’s mission and the target to provide hygienic spaces and sanitation facilities in government schools. Some of the benefits of water sanitation and hygiene to school children are:

The provision of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in school secures a healthy school environment and protects children from illness and exclusion. It is a first step towards a healthy physical learning environment, benefiting both learning and health. Children who are healthy and well-nourished can fully participate in school and get the most from the education. Hygiene education in schools help promote those practices that would prevent water and sanitation related diseases as well as encourage healthy behaviour in future generations of adults.

Girls are particularly vulnerable to dropping out of school, partly because many are reluctant to continue their education when toilets and washing facilities are not private, not safe or simply not available. When schools have appropriate, gender-separated facilities, an obstacle to attendance is removed. Thus having gender segregated toilets in schools particularly matters for girls. Gender norms and physiology make privacy more important for girls than boys, and biological realities mean that girls need adequate sanitary facilities at school to manage menstruation. Basic facilities that provide for good hygiene and privacy, along with sensitive health promotion assist girls to stay in school and complete their education.

Hygiene in school also supports school nutrition. The simple act of washing hands with soap before eating the school mid day meal assists to break disease transmission routes. Children get the nutritional benefits intended, rather than ingesting bacteria, germs and viruses. Studies show that when hand washing becomes part of a child’s daily routine the benefits to health are evident and the practice does not easily fade.1 School is therefore an ideal setting for teaching good hygiene behaviours that children can also carry home.

Having safe water, toilet and hygiene facilities in schools promotes equity. All children are equal in their right to access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, and all children gain benefits through the improved hygiene practices promoted in schools. By providing gender-segregated toilets, students are assured of privacy and dignity, a particularly important factor for girls’ school attendance. By providing inclusive and accessible facilities, children with special needs are able to attend school and further contribute to the development of their society.

Having a clean school fosters a child’s pride in his or her school and community. It enables every child become an agent of change for improving water, sanitation and hygiene practices in their families and within their community. School water and sanitation clubs encourage students to participate in taking care of latrines and handwashing stations, and in providing safe water where necessary. Club members create rotating lists of responsibilities, sharing sanitation- and water-related chores among both boys and girls. This also fosters pride and ownership, and it counteracts the belief that these tasks are only for women and girls or particular social groups.

Children with disabilities are also vulnerable to dropping out of school. Accessible school facilities are a key to school attendance for children with disabilities. An effective water, sanitation and hygiene programmes seeks to remove barriers by promoting inclusive design – user-friendly, child-friendly facilities that benefit all users, including adolescent girls, small children and children who are sick or disabled. Toilets and handwashing facilities,for example, need to be customised to fit children’s smaller size, and water, sanitation and hygiene facilities that are traditionally designed for the ‘average’ child must consider the fact that children have a wide range of abilities and needs. To make sure facilities are accessible, it is essential to involve children with disabilities in the design process. The cost of making inclusive facilities is minimal compared to the costs of exclusion.

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