Clean India - Clean schools
WASH contributes to more healthy children in school and learning
The combination of adequate water and sanitation facilities, correct behavioural practices and education is critical for securing children’s good health, learning, and overall development.
Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) in schools has been widely recognized for its significant contributions to achieving the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) – particularly those related to providing access to primary education, reducing child mortality, improving water and sanitation, and promoting gender equality.
When schools have clean toilets for both boys and girls, access to clean water, and handwashing facilities, it not only prevents transmission of communicable diseases, it contributes to more children attending school and learning.
The presence of separate toilets, menstrual hygiene management facilities can help girls stay in school and reduce drop-outs, which further reduces the risk of early marriage and pregnancy.
Studies have shown that a quarter of all girls in school in India took time off when menstruating because of inadequate gender-specific toilets, non-availability of sanitary pads in schools. Source (Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), Liverpool, UK and UNICEF 2014-15 )
According to the study nearly 22 per cent of schools in India, did not have appropriate toilets for girls and 58 per cent of preschools had no toilet at all (Rapid Survey on Children 2013-14).
Nearly 56 per cent of preschools had no water available on the premises. In many rural schools in India, water quality is still a major issue, as many schools do not have adequate water treatment facilities for testing for contaminants like iron, arsenic, or fluoride (Rapid Survey on Children 2013-14).
With the advent of the SBM, the increased policy emphasis on school sanitation was manifested in the Indian government’s campaign slogan of ‘toilets before temples’ and the subsequent launch of the Swachh Bharat: Swachh Vidyalaya (SBSV) initiative in 2015 that aimed to provide universal access to sex-segregated toilets in all 1.2 million government schools.
Another aim of the SBSV was to improve the WASH curriculum and teaching methods while promoting hygiene practices and community ownership of water and sanitation facilities within schools.
UNICEF also supported the development of the national framework for benchmarking schools along 39 WASH indicators – through the national school awarding system Swachh Vidyalaya Puraskar (SVP) - that was pushed aggressively by the government in all states.
This has improved children’s health, school enrolment, attendance, and retention and paves the way for a new generation of healthy children.
Every school in India must have six essential requirements that make up a good school WASH programme.
- Separate toilets for boys and girls; there needs to be adequate, menstrual hygiene management facilities, private space for changing, adequate water for cloth washing, and disposal facilities for menstrual waste.
- Sufficient group handwashing facilities allow groups of 10-12 students to wash their hands at the same time. The handwashing station should be simple, scalable, and sustainable, relying on minimum water.
- Daily provision of child-friendly and sustainable safe drinking water and adequate water for handwashing. Besides, the provision of safe water for school cleaning and food preparation and cooking. Safe handling and storage of drinking water should be practiced throughout the school.
- All water, sanitation, and handwashing facilities need to be clean, functional, and well maintained to ensure that the intended results are achieved, and monetary investments made in installing these systems are not lost.
- Water, sanitation, and hygienic behaviour change communication activities should be part of the daily routine of all children. Girls are to be taught menstrual hygiene management by female teachers in a sensitive and supportive manner.
- Capacities are to be improved at various levels within the sector, to develop the right mix of skills, knowledge, and experience to help, finance, manage and monitor water, sanitation, and hygiene programmes in schools effectively.
Partnership for clean schools in India
UNICEF India has been a committed development partner to the Ministry of Jal Shakti, Ministry
of Human Resource Development (MoHRD), and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) in school WASH programming by supporting their policy and advocacy efforts, along with its implementation, through an equitable and gender-inclusive approach.
UNICEF is a strong partner of the Government of India for the Swachh Bharat: Swachh Vidyalaya (SBSV) campaign working to ensure that every school in India has a set of functioning and well-maintained water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities, segregated for boys and girls.
UNICEF’s field offices are working at the state level to ensure that WASH in Schools is a key agenda for School Management Committees (SMC) and school development plans. Our programmes continuously endeavor to develop children’s capacity and knowledge around WASH so that they can advocate for increased demand for WASH in Schools.
UNICEF supports the Ministry of Education in building the capacity and broadening the pool of stakeholders (such as teachers, students, SMC members, school administrations, senior officials, and public representatives) to roll out School Action Plans through a streamlined cascade training model that aims to ensure long-term stability of the programmes. For this, a comprehensive training toolkit is being developed which will be officially released in 2021.
Significant strides have been made under the SBM to improve the sanitation and hygiene conditions for children in schools. The experience gained over the past decade can be well applied to sustaining WASH in Schools programmes that improve health, foster learning, and enable children to participate as agents of change for their community at large.
However, the conditions in schools vary from inadequate to total lack of water and sanitation facilities despite India being declared open-defecation free in 2019, contributing to absenteeism and high dropout rates, especially among girls.
There are still unreached populations, sustainability challenges in addition to complementing sanitation access with universal water supply, as envisioned by the Jal Jeevan Mission. The India Programme is expected to build on lessons from existing and past experiences while introducing new areas of emphasis, which is addressing water stress and scarcity.
These include greater engagement with partners, to help ensure that children are reached wherever they are; mainstreaming risk-informed programming to mitigate the impact of climate change and public health emergencies such as COVID-19; and more extensive involvement with the private sector and other new partners to encourage innovation and school programming at scale.