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Cleanliness & Hygiene in Schools:Raising Questions

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With the mushrooming of international schools in India, the level of awareness on cleanliness and hygiene at schools has improved to some extent. However, despite the availability of essential cleaning machines, chemicals and professional services in the market, providing a decent amount of amenities still remains a challenge at most schools. Even schools that are known to be ‘clean and hygienic’ are not aware of the specific products and services (air sanitizers, seat sanitizers, microfibre mops, sanitary feminine waste dispensers/disposable bins with cleaning service providers, segregated bins for waste, automated cleaning machines or door handle sanitizers) available in the market. Cross-contamination is an issue that is still widely neglected.

“A lack of awareness and commitment from the management to provide better hygiene facilities is the main issue. Funds constraint adds to the problem,” says Hydros Jassem, Business Manager-UAE, Technical Concepts. “I feel that parents in India are at the mercy of the school and the management to get admission. Why are parents keeping quiet while the child picks up a disease or even flu? Do we all wait for this flu to snowball into a swine flu before we take any action? Why should they have to worry that their children will be expelled by ‘demanding’ for a clean, disease-free institution? Everybody knows that there is an issue but nobody wants to do anything about it.”

The cleanliness and hygiene issues at schools can be divided into different categories: Washroom hygiene, clean drinking water, feminine hygiene, washing hands the right way (this is a major issue), waste disposal (in separate bins), cleaning premises, cross contamination (door handles, benches and books), canteen facilities, personal hygiene and parental awareness.

Washroom hygiene tops the list of cleanliness issues a school needs to seriously look into. The mother of a pupil studying in Mumbai’s Maneckji Cooper laments, “The school teaches hygiene and cleanliness but never follows good hygiene practices itself. There is not even a small soap bar in the washrooms, forget soap dispensers and toilet rolls. Even mugs for washing are not provided near the WC. The toilets are just not clean enough. Children leave at around 6.30am and at times, are not able to relieve themselves properly. So, even if my son feels the need to relieve himself, he holds it till he returns home. I have taken it upon myself to equip him with soap papers and wet & dry tissues.”

Another parent of an international school says, “My daughter has been going to this school for the last 10 years but she relieves herself only on returning home. Despite the relatively clean washrooms, she cannot stand the stink.”

A Trust-run school in a residential area of Borivali, Mumbai, has only two toilets for 500 pupils. A soap cake is kept in the washroom but the teachers deny any knowledge of sanitizers, dispensers or automatic cleaning machines. Teachers have separate facilities though. The school faces severe cleanliness problems. The water doesn’t suffice for the need of the pupils. It has to be filled in a tank.

Amanda Martin, Senior European Sales Manager – Europe, Africa & Middle East, Newell Rubbermaid, says that physical welfare is one of the issues the school administrators need looking into. “This is not just concerns of germ spread and cross contamination. It is known that children do not like to use toilets at school for many reasons. An unclean washroom environment with bad odour obstructs children from wanting to use the facilities. Holding back continually leads to urinary tract infections or kidney problems as well as incontinence in later life.

“In some cases, there is no privacy (cubicle doors are missing or have no latch) or the toilets do not flush.”

Educating Children

Dinesh Nambrath Nayar, Country Manager, Aquair, opines that parents and teachers have to educate their children in good hygiene practices which should be a part of their vocational training. “Washrooms are often not equipped with the basic needs of cleanliness and hygiene. You teach a kid to wash hands with soap but there is no soap in the washroom. How will they wash hands?” He says that children and adults alike are not aware of the right washroom practices. “About 80% of the people do not know that a WC toilet seat flap has to be down only while they are sitting on it and kept upright when they are not sitting on it.”

Vimala Chandrashekar, Principal, Glendale Academy, Hyderabad, feels the cleaning industry could help. “Even though our school uses the best cleaning agents available in the market, a little talk to students by professional experts on proper toilet usage would really go a long way.” Christina Cornelius, Dean of Education, Kaushalya Global School, Banjara Hills, Hyderabad, says that money has never been a constraint but it is the lack of knowledge of available products in the market that is a hindrance. Even an industry expert like Jassem feels that the cleaning industry has a responsibility to educate schools on the services and products that are available: “There are many instances where the school wants to but does not know how to bring about a change.” Adds Vinay Ruparel, Managing Director, Best Practices Washroom Pvt Ltd (BPW), “I feel, we as an industry, haven’t done enough. We need to take hygiene to the grassroots level.”

But most of the schools find these services ‘luxurious’. “They feel that since children do not spend much time in the washrooms, there is no need for many products there. Moreover, today’s architects and engineers design school washrooms in such a constrained manner that even if the housekeeping staff wants to install sanitary feminine waste dispensers in the toilet cubicles, they wouldn’t find a place to do so,” says the manager of a reputed school.

Industry Initiatives

A few companies like New Delhi based Global Excellence Group, Best Practices Washroom Pvt Ltd, Intercare Cleaning & Hygiene Services Pvt Ltd and Diversey India Pvt Ltd have taken initiatives in educating pupils about right practices.

Dr JPS Bakshi, Managing Director, Global Excellence Group is of the opinion that children should be taught about cleanliness right from junior class itself. Says he, “School washroom hygiene and waste management are very close to my heart. Our Group’s division – Washroom Hygiene Concepts – takes care of washroom service in schools. Apart from the regular maintenance of the school rooms and premises and the washroom cleaning services, we give importance to three aspects: Waste Segregation, Feminine Hygiene Care Services and Personal Hygiene Supplies.”

Washroom Hygiene Concepts has begun the practice of providing three low cost bins for segregating waste in each classroom in Delhi schools. “A huge amount of used exercise books, rough writing paper, packaging material get collected in schools which can be sold. In one of the schools, pupils have begun getting unwanted paper from home too to be put in these bins. Leftover food which is generated during the lunch break goes into a separate bin. So, dry and wet waste gets segregated into recyclable and non recyclable waste. The pupils are given flavoured milk in plastic glasses at the school. Often, children do not consume the entire quantity of milk. The third bin is for such leftover milk along with the glasses and the spillages while eating. The children are taught which waste goes into which bin. The waste is collected by Washroom Hygiene Concepts and sent for recycling or into the garbage area as is the case and the programme itself can be subsidised from the income generated with the sale of the waste paper.”

Washroom Hygiene Concepts has also tied up with PCI Environmental Services (A joint venture of Pest Control India and OCS Group of UK) for providing Feminine Hygiene Care Services for girls. Bakshi says that most of the schools do not provide toilet rolls or paper towels because children tend to play with those. But the Washroom Hygiene Concepts has begun teaching them the proper use. “Right cleaning methods in schools can reduce cross contamination. We use fogging machines and disinfectants to clean the table tops as these lead to a lot of cross contamination. I am going to propose this to all schools.”

Abhay Desai, Director Marketing – South Asia, Diversey India Pvt Ltd, says, “Under our Global Children’s Initiative, we go to schools meant for under-privileged children and teach them ‘the importance of Hand Hygiene’. We use flip charts, presentations, videos and even a movie on bugs to show how clean hands can eliminate many causes of ill health. The programme contains a simulation germ kit, wherein children apply the gel on their hands and see it under the UV light (part of our kit). The gel is viewed as germs. Then, we teach the right way to wash hands in a fun manner. The kids wash their hands and check them again under UV light to notice the ‘germs’ missing. Besides, we are also working with some schools to teach the housekeeping staff cleaning methods and are setting up standard operating procedures to clean their toilets. This involves the use of chemicals, frequency of cleaning and the right cleaning tools. We provide wall charts as ready reckoner for the housekeeping staff to refer to after they are trained by us. We supply chemicals, tools and machines to certain schools.”

BPW too has taken some initiatives. Ruparel says, “We have done a project at a school to teach children the right way of washing hands. A pupil innocently asked me: ‘Sir, you are teaching us all this but after you go, will we get soaps in our school for washing hands?’ After hearing that, we immediately decided to provide soaps to that school which is followed by BPW till today. We are also in touch with some government officials to make a half hour slot mandatory in government schools for professionals to talk on right hygiene practices.” BPW has also adopted five municipal schools and is maintaining their washrooms in Mumbai. It intends to do so in other cities as well. “Our focus for schools is on hand wash facilities and feminine hygiene.”

Chirag Mendiratta, General Manager, Intercare Cleaning & Hygiene Services Pvt. Ltd, informs that along with the Ministry of Health in Kuwait and Qatar, the company has taken initiative on hand wash and hand sanitising awareness in public areas, including schools. He guides the children the right way, “Wash your hands; take soap on your hands; lather and scrub for at least 20 seconds; rinse for at least 10 seconds with clear water and then, dry your hands.” He cautions, “Don’t forget to wash between your fingers, under your nails and above your hand.”

School Initiatives

Satish Nayak, Trustee, IES (Indian Education Society which has 12 campuses, 62 schools and three colleges in Maharashtra), says the Trust has been installing waste bins supplied by Econirvana in the campuses since 2009. “These bins, which are basically for dry litter, are placed in the no-man’s land between two schools in a campus. We have completed providing bins in the Mumbai suburbs up to Dombivili. As these relatively big bins are colourful and attractive, children like to walk up to these to put their litter. In the school canteens, we have provided two bins – one each for wet and dry waste.”

Nayak says that through many awareness programmes, pupils are taught about cleanliness and hygiene and the health hazards of not following proper hygienic practices. The cleaning of the premises and washrooms is outsourced to a private company which services about four schools at present.

Likewise, Bombay Scottish in Mumbai was turned around when DPS Prasad took over as the principal. The toilets were badly maintained. But he revamped the washrooms and assigned dedicated staff to each toilet. He ensured helpers worked regularly and inspected the washrooms personally. Today, the washrooms have hand sanitizers and soap dispensers and there is an academic coordinator looking after the entire process. A teacher says, “Our toilets are at par with those of any five-star hotel. They are washed three-four times a day during school hours. There is 24/7 water supply and a good disposal facility.”

Dhvani Vora, studying in Standard IX in Rustomjee International at Dahisar, Mumbai, has no complaints with her school. “Our school has got extra uniforms stitched in every size. If a girl stains her uniform, she is provided a clean uniform to change into which she has to return to the school properly washed and ironed. Our toilets are cleaned regularly and we are provided with soaps cakes.”

Devlina Sinha, a pupil of Tagore International, Vasant Vihar, Delhi, too is happy with her school’s cleanliness. “Our washrooms are very clean. There are conservancy workers for the washrooms and eight huge dustbins on every floor. The corridors are swept and mopped after every two periods. The bathrooms are cleaned after every period. The school is sanitised every week.”

A teacher of Arya Vidya Mandir, Mumbai, echoes similar sentiments. “I can proudly say that we have state-of-the-art washrooms. Every floor has dedicated staff and washrooms are checked thrice a day for cleanliness. We have infrastructure coordinators too. We provide soaps and look after the special sanitary needs of girls as well. We hold workshops on cleanliness and hygiene for the parents too because they are the ones who will pass on good habits to children.”

Parental Role

However, such positive stories do not hold true for over 75% of the schools. Parents, along with teachers, need proper training about clean practices. “Hygiene must start at home,” says Martin. “Parents need to be invited at the time of toilet revamp to show what the school is doing and why. They need to be asked to sign a declaration that they will make sure kids wash their hands at home and respect others by leaving the home bathroom clean and tidy.”

Jassem suggests, “Parents can possibly play the most important role by demanding, for their child, clean facilities which must start with the washroom because that is where you are guaranteed to have an accumulation of disease causing germs. These germs are transferred from one person to another through the air and through physical contact like a handshake.

“Parents must not be scared to discuss the issues of cleanliness with the school management objectively. They must participate in assisting the school to provide a better facility. This need not be by giving more money. They can get their companies to sponsor the products; if the school is a public school, provide knowledge and experience. They must also encourage their children to assist the school in keeping the facility clean.” This is a sentiment shared by Nayar of Aquair too.

Mendiratta suggests the parents to “use unobtrusive reminders to make the child aware of hygiene and self-care issues”.

He also says the schools can take initiatives by sending parents and students news articles on monthly basis to spread awareness on hygiene and self care tips.

Anupma Diddi, a teacher at Pinnacle High International, Mumbai, feels that if children are not taught to respect clean washrooms in home that would get reflected at the school. “Parents too should be asked to sensitise the children towards toilet manners.”

Lack of awareness of products/services

Many schools want to use the latest technology but are not aware of the products/services. Jassem opines, “The cleaning industry has a responsibility to educate schools on the services and products that are available.

There are many instances where the school wants to but does not know how to bring about a change.” Gool Ghadiali, Principal, Gopal Sharma International School, Powai, agrees with him. “We, as heads of schools, are very keen to see that flushes are working and washrooms are kept very clean. Compared to schools abroad, there are a large number of pupils in Indian schools, adding to the problem.

“The problem arises because children do not know how to use these facilities. In our school, we have a person stationed at every toilet to clean it every time it is used. Yet, they do have a stench.”

Nayar says, “Schools can use seat sanitizers, automatic cleaners and chemicals for the seats.” Ghadiali says her school isn’t aware of the seat sanitizers or sanitary napkin dispensers. “But then, why don’t the cleaning professionals approach us and tell us what they have to offer if our bathrooms stink despite the constant cleaning?

There might be budget constraints but if good services based on new technology are offered, certain managements today are open to such suggestions.”

Ruparel says the stench is also because of lack of feminine hygiene facilities as that leads to blockage of commodes. “Feminine hygiene is an extremely important issue and schools need to look into this subject immediately.”

Solutions

All these problems have solutions. Jassem adds, “The administration must understand that cleaning an institution is not similar to cleaning a home. The first thing they must do is seek professional services. This can be in the form of employing a housekeeper, contracting a professional company to keep the facility clean or getting a professional on board to advise them on ways to maintain the facility. At the least they can get a parent who is a cleaning professional or a group of parents to monitor the cleanliness and hygiene of the facility.”

There are many options to choose from.

Automatic Air Sanitizers: Automatic Air Care solutions – fragrance and non-fragrance – which are provided via dispensers ensure that the air inside the washrooms smells good. For those who are allergic to fragrances, there are equipment that neutralise the air. These air sanitizers are non-fragrance dispensers which help sanitise the air without spreading the fragrance by working against the micro-organisms which generate the odour. The technology involved in non-fragrance air sanitizer helps eliminate the odour arising from liquids that fall on floor.

Hand Care Solutions: The industry recommends soap dispensers which are more hygienic than cakes. Two options are liquid soap and foam soap. Foam soap is preferred over liquid soap as it drops only a particular amount of soap at one time which is good enough to wash hands, thereby avoiding wastage. Moreover, it cannot be diluted by the staff responsible for refills. But it is costlier than normal liquid soaps. Mendiratta says, “Cross contamination is when we carry bacteria from one object to another; from one object to a person; or from person to person. Failing to prevent cross contamination may result in illnesses which may cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, dehydration and abdominal cramps. Regular hand washing and sanitisation can reduce cross contamination to a very large extent.”

Hand Dryers: An expensive option, it has two types: hot air dryer and cold air dryer. A cold air dryer saves on electricity consumption and eliminates paper towels. The user can wash hands and directly put them in the dryer or hold below the dryer. For creating hot air, the dryer has a filament which guzzles electricity to heat it. Now green dryers too have come in that reduce electricity consumption.

Dosing Systems: These systems allow automatic sanitising, cleaning of urinals and WC.

Chemicals Solutions: There are surface treatment chemicals which can be dispensed at regular intervals so that the urinals remain clean. The water that is flushed down gets treated with chemicals thereby helping in de-scaling and auto control. The bacteria present on the surface get eliminated and go through the flushing. So, if a school does regular cleaning, it can use a lighter chemical rather than cleaning once in three months by using a very strong chemical. The smell in the washrooms is primarily due to urinals and WC. Once that is removed, the washroom environment will improve drastically.

Seat sanitizers sanitise the seats so that the users do not catch any infection.

Feminine Hygiene: Very important at schools, it is related to sanitary feminine waste disposables and sanitary napkin dispensers. Many companies have come up with sanitary bins for feminine waste which are treated with enzymes that eliminate the multiplication of bacteria primarily because these wastes are conducive to bacterial growth. The enzymes are effective for a month’s cycle (and even 45 days’ cycle) and eliminate the smell. At the end of the cycle, the company staff take away the used waste and replace the enzymes in the bin. This service is effective as the normal tendency of flushing the waste leads to clogging of the drainage system. Dispensers are dispensing units in various sizes which can be placed in the girls’ washrooms for use in emergencies.

Door Handle Sanitizers: Sanitising the door handle of a washroom is extremely important because even after a thorough wash in the washroom, the hands can get contaminated at the door handle (which is almost always contaminated). Nayar says, “Presently, we have hand sanitizer but we are working on a door handle sanitizer that will be installed at the door to sanitise the handle on its own at regular intervals. We are also working on automated dispensers spraying chemical.”

Floor Mats: Normally, washroom mats are wet leaving bacteria to multiply rapidly. Now, there are anti-skid mats that can be washed in the washing machines and have quick water absorbing and drying capacity.

Auto Scrubbers are automatic machines to scrub and clean floors and surfaces.

Disposable mops or microfibre cloths and mops: Disposable mops do away with the problem of germs and bacteria altogether but they are an expensive option. Microfibre cloths and mops require less water and chemicals.

Brushes: Excellent brushes for specific purposes are available in the market in various price ranges.

Gloves for workers: The workers can be provided with gloves so that their hands do not touch the chemicals or contaminated surfaces.

Creatively supplied services

Martin feels smart creative animal designs like a frog spitting soap from its mouth would prove helpful at schools instead of just providing soap and toilet paper. “Children buy into fun things. So, a campaign championed by a fun character delivering the message and proper teachings for hand washing and how to use the bathroom are key to success.”

Outsourcing

The industry is skeptical. Nayar says, “Firstly the schools should be open to the idea of getting their washroom serviced. Washroom Hygiene is a specialised field and expertise supported by technology is the need of the hour. Schools need to encourage the use of technology in cleaning the facilities. But outsourcing has still not entered Indian schools. It would be better if a school looks at washroom hygiene as part of its infrastructure instead of treating it as a separate identity. When the managements can invest in air-conditioned classrooms, beautiful corridors/classrooms and white boards and AV rooms, it is disappointing to know that the washrooms are neglected.”

Jassem opines that there must be a will to do it, “Discounted or free is not the issue.” Mendiratta agrees. “Unless the schools maintain the cleaning & hygiene standards and stipulate the regulation strictly on the facilities management companies irrespective of the contracts offered by them at discounted rates, it will not change anything. Constant training programmes should be organised for these companies and their staff for correct usage of products & tools. A checklist should be maintained by the school administration to maintain hygiene standards.”

Vandalism

Many principals and administrators express the problem of vandalising of facilities by pupils. Nayar says, “There are enough dispensers/products that are vandalism-proof, provided the school looks at the cost favourably.”

Arya Vidya Mandir had faced vandalism problem but tackled it successfully. A teacher says, “Some time ago we noticed that the urinal pipes of the boys’ washrooms were getting broken at regular intervals despite constant repairs. We kept a watch and learnt that some grown up boys were resorting to kicking and breaking the pipe. Some children in growing age get destructive. We have a resource person in the school and held a closed door session with the boys. We explained to them that it was for their benefit. We invited the parents too in the session. The boys didn’t do it again.”

Martin feels that the administration must also care for the mental welfare of pupils. “A squalid toilet environment invites squalid behaviour – toilet blocks are often a place where bullying takes place. Toilets are often locked because of vandalism which is due to frustration and/or lack of education. It has been proven that nice clean toilets don’t get vandalised. Incentives for the children can be offered, like extra footballs/skipping ropes and playground equipment, may be by the hygiene industry.”

Budget Constraints

Ruparel says, “We are very confident that once the private schools are aware that there are professionals who can offer customised solutions, they will avail this facility. We can subsidise costs now to inculcate the right hygiene practices in our future generation, but then, the government has to step in later to give subsidies.” He also feels schools cannot always demand a general and cheap solution. “Let us first check your problems and then, provide a solution that reduces cost.”

Budget constraints might not permit schools to avail of the facilities on offer. But then, many companies are working towards providing solutions at affordable rates. Nayar says, “The products for the economical model of washroom hygiene are presently under testing. Once they are tested, we can extend our services to low-budget customers too.”

Martin adds, “There is more cost associated with NOT taking care of hygiene and cleanliness when the general physical welfare of children suffers. There is not usually any legislation to make the changes happen and therefore, they do not happen – they are continually swept under the carpet.”

Will a government policy help?

Often, the governments ignore the issue. Lack of a proper government policy on school washrooms too is a reason schools do not bother much about provisions and facilities in pupils’ washrooms. Municipal corporation and government-run schools are the worst hit. Ruparel feels strongly that a government policy is a must on the issue. “The government must make it mandatory for schools to provide soaps and facilities for feminine hygiene in washrooms. The government must step in and take the right steps in this regard. These two things just cannot be neglected.”

Jassem opines, “Policy is good to force people but then, more than policies what we need is awareness. The importance of hygiene, particularly in schools, must be stressed. At present, the attitude of the government is to close the school for a few days whenever there is an epidemic and then forget about what caused or sustained it.”

Is a change in attitude needed?

Jassem feels that school administrators must acknowledge the fact that the facility needs to be improved and not take it as a personal criticism. “Any criticism and complaint must be treated as a guideline to upgrade the facility. Seek help; there are a lot of individuals and companies out there to help. Cleanliness is not just soap and water or a clean uniform. It is the whole facility, the toilets, the classroom, the bus, the desks and the benches. Educating children about the importance of cleanliness and hygiene is a mindset that cannot be taught too early.”

Martin says that staff toilets are often far better than student toilets. “In the UK, for example, it is legislated in the workplace regulations (government document) that toilet tissue and a means of hand washing and sanitary disposal must be provided for employees – but the same legislation does not provide the same rules for children in education. Nothing is deemed important enough to be provided here!”

Nayar avers, “The attitude right now is: There’s a washroom. I need a soap dispenser. Let me put a soap dispenser without even thinking of the difference between two types of soap dispenser. This needs to change because a beauty soap will do nothing to clean your hands. Likewise, diluting liquid soap is as good as washing with plain water.”

Canteens

Cleanliness at canteens too needs proper attention. Many companies cater to specific kitchen cleaning services. But not all schools have their own canteens forcing the pupils to buy eatables from nearby shops or vendors. Water purifiers and pest control at schools canteens are a must. Also, the utensils need reasonably priced cleaning solutions (chemicals, powders, scrubbers…).

The parent who is upset with Maneckji Cooper’s washrooms is very happy with its canteen services. “It is a very neat and clean canteen. The services are outsourced to a few women who provide healthy food to children and lay the tables very well before serving food.” Many pupils of Tagore International do not carry tiffin as the school’s provisions are very good.

Personal Hygiene

Diddi feels it is also important that parents pay attention to their children’s personal hygiene. “What disturbs me is that some parents think it is ok for their children to come to school without bathing. They feel if the child has had a bath at night it is fine for him/her to not have a bath before going to school. This becomes unbearable given the fact that sweat glands in India are strong. The teachers have tried to advise the parents. We cannot do anything more.”

Government schools

A few teachers of government schools complain of the attitude of conservancy workers. “They are in a secure government job. Hence, they do not work properly and create a ruckus if they are pulled up. The washrooms are dirty and smelly at the school where my children go,” says a teacher.

Desai says, “The cleaner or housekeeper in government schools also comes from an untrained background and hence, finds it difficult to understand the importance of hygiene and a clean toilet bathroom. Another reason is the irregular or incorrect or absent cleaning supplies. Most public schools find it difficult to even have a regular 12-hour (school timings) water supply. Teaching the kids how to wash hands or when to wash hands becomes immaterial here. They do not have the right cleaning tools or machines available with them. So, the entire process of getting a clean toilet in these schools is stuck in a circle.”

Jassem feels that the issues of municipal and corporate schools are different as their levels are different. “Most often than not, facilities are not available there – you have to make do with whatever is available.” Nayar suggests, “It is important for the child to spend some time in the washroom for which the washroom should look clean and hygienic. Washroom should smell good and give a good feeling to the user.”

(With inputs from Mangala Chandran in Mumbai and Maya in Hyderabad)

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