Age-appropriate WASH for early childhood

Acknowledging younger children’s different learning styles is key to effective Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) education

Lydia Darby
Two pre-primary school boys smile after demonstrating their handwashing skills in Chetre Borei District, Kratie Province, August 2019.
UNICEF Cambodia/2019/Lydia Darby

05 September 2019

Every child has a right to clean, safe water in schools. As we celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we take stock of UNICEF Cambodia’s work to provide water and sanitation services in schools so that every child grows healthy, safe and able to learn. 

Kratie, Cambodia, September 2019: Clean water, proper toilets and good hygiene are essential to the survival and development of children, yet seven in every ten pre-primary schools in Cambodia do not have access to these most basic facilities. The 2018 Joint UNICEF and WHO report for WASH in Schools highlights that schools which serve the youngest students tend to have the lowest WASH coverage, with 67 per cent , 74 per cent and 71 percent of pre-primary schools in Cambodia having no access to drinking water, sanitation and hand washing facilities, respectively. Common consequences are diarrhoea and pneumonia, both infectious but preventable diseases which result from poor sanitation, hygiene behaviour and inferior water quality. As one of the most common causes of children’s absence from school, they also cause chronic malnutrition, poor growth and are a leading cause of mortality for children under five years in Cambodia. A clean school environment is a precondition for children to reach their potential. It should be a place for learning and development, not threaten a child’s health. UNICEF, in partnership with BORDA, has been supporting the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport to achieve its goal that every school will have access to WASH facilities by 2025.

Aloch School in Chetre Borei district, Kratie Province, August 2019. The class turn and smile as their teacher goes over their water, sanitation and hygiene lessons.
UNICEF Cambodia/2019/Lydia Darby
Aloch School in Chetre Borei district, Kratie Province, August 2019. The class turn and smile as their teacher goes over their water, sanitation and hygiene lessons.

The cheeky pre-school children at Aloch school, 30 kilometres from Kratie Krong, know their stuff when it comes to WASH. Acknowledging the younger children’s different learning styles and inability to understand complex concepts has been crucial for successful WASH education in this school. Interactive learning and playful engagement has encouraged the children to put their new habits into practice. Children have two songs, one for handwashing and one for using the toilet, which they proudly sing. Songs are an excellent way to teach young children good behaviour and skills, and an important part of any pre-school classroom.  Despite needing more frequent reminders and closer supervision from their teacher compared to the older primary school children, these young students know what to do once they arrived at their adjacent toilet block. They told us all about how and when to wash their hands and how to drink safe water. One five-year-old boy blew us away with his knowledge of the dangers of bacteria, and how to prevent illnesses like diarrhoea. Their knowledge was testament to the teacher’s ability to make hygiene actions interesting and fun.

Two pre-primary school boys age 5 and 3 demonstrate their hand washing skills at the toilet block adjacent to their classroom in Aloch Pre-primary and Primary School, Chetre Borei District, Kratie Province, August 2019.
UNICEF Cambodia/2019/Lydia Darby
Two pre-primary school boys age 5 and 3 demonstrate their hand washing skills at the toilet block adjacent to their classroom in Aloch Pre-primary and Primary School, Chetre Borei District, Kratie Province, August 2019.
Two pre-primary school boys demonstrate their hand-washing skills in their toilet block at Aloch Pre-primary and Primary School in Chetre Borei District, Kratie province in August 2019.
UNICEF Cambodia/2019/Lydia Darby
Two pre-primary school boys demonstrate their hand-washing skills in their toilet block at Aloch Pre-primary and Primary School in Chetre Borei District, Kratie province in August 2019.

Studies show that handwashing with soap can reduce diarrhoeal disease by up to forty-eight per cent and improving water quality can reduce it by seventeen per cent. Providing basic sanitation facilities, and keeping children hydrated with safe drinking water, can significantly reduce absenteeism. UNICEF’s WASH in Schools programmes is striving to ensure that every child can grow up and learn in a safe, clean environment with education and facilities tailored to their age and ability.

Before UNICEF’s intervention in the last quarter of 2018, the children used to defecate in the open. Now, thanks to Australian funding, the facilities are easily accessible with a low ramp, and well-maintained with bright colours and natural light. The pre-school toilets and hand-washing facilities were designed so that the teacher could monitor the child and ensure proper use. The older students in the primary school had a different toilet block with more privacy, separate toilets for the different sexes including toilets for students with disability and menstrual hygiene waste disposal. There was clean water for everyone to drink, with personalised small cups for the pre-primary students that are washed every morning.  UNICEF, in partnership with BORDA, has provided “a much cleaner, healthier environment to learn in”, according to the school director Hov Kimyin. He told us, “we have good facilities and I’m impressed how much the student’s health has improved”. With a good pipe supply, drinking water and enough toilets for everyone, he has noted a decrease in diarrhoea and better student attendance.

Two Pre-school boys, ages 5 and 3, smile with UNICEF Cambodia WASH officer Sokcheng outside their toilet block at Aloch pre-school in Chetre Borei district, Kratie, August 2019.
UNICEF Cambodia/2019/Lydia Darby
Two Pre-school boys, ages 5 and 3, smile with UNICEF Cambodia WASH officer Sokcheng outside their toilet block at Aloch pre-school in Chetre Borei district, Kratie, August 2019.

WASH education has been very effective in Aloch Pre-primary school. Mik Vutha, a teacher and parent of a three-year-old student, said, “before I had to tell her to wash her hands. I don’t have to tell her anymore, she does it anyway.” UNICEF’s goal is to change attitudes about hygiene in a way that influences their behaviour and response to unhygienic situations. Children at Aloch pre-primary school now seek out healthy choices – clean water, clean toilets, clean environments.

5 year old pre-primary school boy shows us his clean hands after explaining the importance of handwashing and when to do it
UNICEF Cambodia/2019/Lydia Darby
5 year old pre-primary school boy shows us his clean hands after explaining the importance of handwashing and when to do it
Aloch Pre-primay and Primary School children in Chetre Borei,  district, Kratie Province, August 2019. After demonstrating their handwashing skills and telling us about drinking clean water, they smiled for a picture
UNICEF Cambodia/2019/Lydia Darby
Aloch Pre-primay and Primary School children in Chetre Borei, district, Kratie Province, August 2019. After demonstrating their handwashing skills and telling us about drinking clean water, they smiled for a picture