A recent study conducted at 60 government schools in Delhi, has found that clean toilets and a regular water supply is something that children and teachers have to do without on a daily basis. Dirty toilets and dry taps are conditions prevailing not just in small schools but also in a number of government-run schools. School restrooms, visited by hundreds of students daily, serve as a breeding ground for germs and diseases; thus, exposing students to illness, leading to absenteeism.
Every time students touch the handle of a faucet or flush valve, a door knob, toilet wall or soap/dispenser, they pick up germs left behind by previous users. Thus, whatever the design or however well-equipped the toilet be, regular cleaning using the right cleaning methods will keep unpleasant odours at bay and help maintain hygiene in restrooms.
At many schools, besides inadequate water supply, improper cleaning schedules and methods, design flaws have also contributed to bad odour in restrooms. Prashant Muley, Principal of Podar International School at Aurangabad says, “School restrooms that are thoughtfully designed and equipment & fixtures carefully selected are in a better position to provide safer, cleaner and more user-friendly restroom facilities. Just as access to daylight can improve the ambience of a classroom, it can have a similar effect in restrooms. Inadequate lighting may make a bathroom seem less clean. A space brightened with natural light will seem more welcoming and possibly lessen the anxieties of students who are apprehensive about using a school restroom.”
“Just as access to daylight can improve the ambience of a classroom, it can have a similar effect in restrooms. School restrooms that are thoughtfully designed are in a better position to provide safer, cleaner and more user-friendly facilities.– Prashant Muley”
Malodour resulting out of bacterial growth owing to poor hygiene practices discourages students from using restrooms. They do not visit restrooms for over eight to 10 hours of the school time! This also raises health concern among students in the long run.
“Odour is a major issue arising out of poor cleaning practices, inadequate ventilation, body fluids, gases & excrement, unflushed toilets, and failure to service floor-drain traps. Micro-organisms, especially viruses, live on such surfaces for hours and even days. Infection control thus starts with good hygiene practices. Proper sanitation is vital for keeping students healthy,” asserts Muley.
Muley explains that the highest footfall in the restroom is during the lunch-break or recess. “It is during this time the restrooms get dirty and begin emitting odour.” At Podar International, a team comprising of four teachers does a random check-up at least four times a day. The teaching staff post their comments/inputs on a soft board in the restroom. In this process, the administration staff members get a regular update of the cleanliness levels and it helps them in making maintenance schedules. Besides, it also reminds them to re-fill the cleaning solution fortnightly. “Every three months, students/pupils are also given a live demo on personal hygiene. The first among them is on ‘cleaning the hands’,” adds Muley.
Apart from design, odour and sanitation, another major issue faced in school restrooms is the lack of facilities for incontinence products disposal. Girl students prefer to stay at home or refrain from using the restroom at school during these days. In either case, it is unhealthy, both mentally and physically respectively.
Ajey Naik, Bursar of the Hansraj Morarji School, Mumbai, says, “A year ago, we introduced sanitary bins in some of our ladies staff toilets as a pilot project. Sanitary bins provide safe and hygienic means to discreetly and conveniently dispose sanitary waste. Even the drain pipes are free from choke-up. ” He agrees that by providing sanitary bins in restrooms the female users will now feel comfortable and confident.
While, many B-schools and international schools have installed trash receptacles, soap dispensers and towel dispensers, it is imperative that regular schools too take initiatives to install wall-mounted fixtures, which will be tamper-resistant and discourage abuse. Placed in the right position, these fixtures will help students keep restrooms clean and more usable. For example, the trash receptacles should be installed below towel dispensers to enable easy and proper disposal.
Now with more and more innovative sanitary products available in the market, schools can look at solutions that can be adopted in restrooms keeping in mind student behaviour. For example, sensors installed along the user’s path would enable a user to complete their restroom business with minimal contact with any surface. This will minimise cross contamination and the spread of germs. Sensors on toilets and urinals can detect when a user has moved away and trigger flushing mechanisms; faucets can flow automatically when sensors detect hands in washing position; sensors on soap dispensers will release a set amount of product when hands are placed nearby and so on.
Nonetheless, even if the restroom is equipped with hygiene / sanitary products, the responsibility for keeping the restrooms clean lies with everyone be it students, faculty, staff or the school administration. It is the basic attitude towards using and keeping a restroom clean that will ensure clean restrooms, be it in school or elsewhere.