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 the good health, learning, and overall development of children.
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, age-appropriate toilets for both boys and girls, access to clean water, and handwashing facilities and hygienic behaviours, it not only prevents the transmission of communicable diseases, it contributes to more children attending school and learning. The latest data from the Government of India’s Management Information System (MIS) for the Ministry of Education shows that nearly half of all schools, in both rural and urban areas in India, lack in basic hand washing facilities in schools.
Furthermore, the presence of separate toilets and menstrual hygiene management facilities can help girls stay in school and reduce school drop-out and absenteeism, 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. (Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and UNICEF, 2014-15). According to another 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).
According to the same study, 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 launch of the Swachh Bharat Mission in 2014, 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), Clean India, Clean Schools, 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 is to improve the WASH curriculum and teaching methods while promoting hygiene practices and community ownership of water and sanitation facilities within schools.
As a partner of choice for the Government of India, UNICEF has supported the development of the national framework for benchmarking schools along 39 WASH indicators – through the national school awarding system called Swachh Vidyalaya Puraskar (SVP), pushed aggressively by the Government in all states.
The SVP has continued since 2016 with a brief two-year gap during 2019 and 2020. During the financial year 2021-22 the SVP was revised with the inclusion of 12 questions related to COVID-19 appropriate requirements in schools and few more questions related to functionality, operation and maintenance of WASH facilities, taking the total number of indicators to 52.
The data set generated from SVP at the National and State levels is used to inform the development of school swachhata action plans (SSAPs) that are mandated within the Samagra Shiksha programme (2018) for the utilization of grants for WASH in schools each year.
Over the years, all these interventions for WASH in schools have led to improved health, school enrolment, attendance, and retention for children, and this paves the way for a new generation of healthy children.
Every school in India must have seven 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 that 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.
COVID-19 appropriate behaviors and infrastructural adaptations in WASH facilities: After the onset of COVID-19 pandemic in India in March 2020, UNICEF has made sustained efforts to ensure that COVID appropriate behavoirs and infrastructural adaptations get focused for safe school reopening (SSR) during the pandemic.
Partnership for clean schools in India
UNICEF India has been a committed development partner to the Ministry of Jal Shakti and the Ministry of Education for 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 campaign and SVP and is 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). 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, safai karmis/sanitation workers, senior officials, and public representatives) to roll out School Swachhata Action Plans through a streamlined cascade training model that aims to ensure long-term stability of the programmes.
For this, a comprehensive training toolkit was developed jointly with the MoE, which was officially released in March 2021 to all States and Union Territories across the country.
Significant strides have been made under the Swachh Bharat Mission to improve 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.
After onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated closure of schools, there has been a highlighted role of key WASH interventions like handwashing with soap, respiratory hygiene, general cleanliness and disinfection to prevent the transmission of diseases, such as COVID-19. At this juncture, UNICEF offered critical support for WASH in schools to the Ministry of Education and respective State education authorities.
These efforts includes the development of standard operating procedures, guidelines, and assessment checklists, followed by phase-wise trainings to cover maximum stakeholders. A compendium of designs for COVID-19 appropriate handwashing units was developed, piloted and disseminated by UNICEF in April 2020.
At the National level, UNICEF helped the Ministry of Education and NCERT develop and launch an online course on COVID-19 responsive behaviours, with focus on WASH for safe school reopening in Hindi as well as in English. As of May 2022, nearly 300,000 people have successfully completed this free-of-cost online course.
More work to be done
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 UNICEF India Programme is expected to build on lessons from existing and past experiences while introducing new areas of emphasis, 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.