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WASH Strategies of Schools – What is and What can be

[box type=”shadow” ]With a population of 1.28 billion, India faces a daunting task managing its waste and implementing an effective waste management program. In addition, it does not help the nation where nearly 595 million citizens defecate in the open. About 22 million girls do not have access to toilets. Sociotech Innovation4Change, a Bangalore based research oriented organisation took up a study covering 25 schools across five states in India to understand the sanitation facilities available in schools and the condition they were in along with a market study of school books of various curriculums. In addition, says Sangeeta Venkatesh, Research Director, Sti4 Change, that they wanted to assess the level of understanding students and teachers have regarding scientific waste management and good sanitation. Focus Group Discussions with various stakeholders on the challenges involving school sanitation were of immense help and value in understanding the lacunae that exists in the system. A report.[/box]


The conceptual framework of the methodology was as follows; a set of Initial conditions were identified, followed by a study of WASH strategies (Sti4change defines WASH as Waste, Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) in the 25 schools and finally the WASH outcomes were assessed. According to our conceptual framework the set of WASH outcomes is a function of the set of initial conditions and the set of WASH strategies. The set of WASH strategies and initial conditions are obviously likely to be correlated also.

A wide range of schools were examined ranging from Government Schools of various states (with and without external intervention); regular Private Day Schools and Residential Schools. In each school we looked at variables such as type of funding, budget, number of classrooms, number of students, number of staff and cleaning staff.

In addition, we examined WASH incentives and routines such as different components of toilets such as mugs, buckets, dustbins, physical infrastructure (walls, doors, latches, etc.), water supply, availability of soap, drinking water, waste segregation and management, eco- sensitive practices, teaching on hygiene including curriculum, and supervision of cleanliness.

Detailed individual components of toilets such as mugs, buckets, dustbins, physical infrastructure (walls, doors, latches etc), water supply, availability of soap, drinking water, waste segregation and management, eco-sensitive practices, teaching on hygiene including curriculum, were also assessed. Individual case studies were documented and a summary of the Challenges faced in WASH strategies, Best practices and Catch- up Paths to achieve it will be attempted in this article.


The Challenges that are faced by schools include a) Execution of various Government policies, b) Functioning of School WASH management, c) Capabilities of individual Schools in WASH, d) School WASH vision

a) Government Policies

Though there is a funding earmarked for primary education, this cess is often unspent. One of the causes of the unspent education cess is that under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan scheme, states have to contribute at least `25 for every `75 spent by the Centre. Reports suggest that states such as Bihar, UP, Jharkhand and West Bengal have struggled to pay their share. Ironically, these are the very states where the need for quality primary education is most pressing. Furthermore, in 2015 the funding pattern of SSA has become tighter and has been formally changed to 50:50 between the Centre and states from the existing 65:35 threatening the future of the flagship programme.

Consumables like cleaning agents and salary for cleaners have to be managed within this budget, other than electricity, water, phone and repairs. In other states, due to lack of vision and planning, this available budget under-utilised.

School WASH management

The volunteers working in the Bangalore government schools reported rampant pilferage of cleaning agents like toilet cleaners, phenyl, and hand-wash soap in government run schools. Hence, toilets were not cleaned or disinfected well. Teachers rarely accompanied students when they use the toilet and hence are not taught the ‘right’ way of using it (pouring water in the water-closet, method of hand-wash, etc.). The levels of motivation of teachers in government schools to go the extra mile to guide the children was extremely low. It was also reported that most hiring of teachers happened through ‘recommendations’. In most government run schools surveyed there were inadequate teaching as well as cleaning staff.

There were also some practical challenges observed. For example, all students were allowed to use the toilet only during break time. As a result of fewer number of toilets, the boys tend to rush to use the walls or trees.

Access to water varied in different schools. In one particular school that we visited in Mumbai, we learnt that the management deliberately put of water during class break time even if there was enough water, which made it difficult for students to use the toilet hygienically.

School WASH Usage

In more than half of the schools visited, inferior quality material were used for doors, latches, tiles which caused quick damage of toilet infrastructure. These were also not child friendly. Instances of vandalism by unruly students and external elements was another cause of concern for quick deterioration of toilet infrastructure.

In many instances, schools lack boundary walls and have become the property of the local politician. Many of the schools had ample land that could be used as playgrounds and developing sports facilities. Unfortunately that was not the case and the land was used for private functions of local politicians and influential people. In such a scenario, toilets were the first to be targeted for vandalism and damage. Quite often, the residents from the neighbourhood also used a part of the land for dumping their garbage.

Inferior quality of doors used in a school in Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu

School WASH Capabilities

Our survey also showed some toilets that looked as if they were deliberately damaged so that toilet usage could be avoided. What we learnt from sources was that this ‘spares’ the school management the trouble of cleaning toilets as cleaners are not easily available. In the process, it was the girl-students that were greatly disadvantaged.

School WASH Vision

There were some pleasant surprises too during the study where some schools took the effort to segregate waste, compost, sell high value paper and plastic and deal with sanitary waste. However, because of the lack of back end solutions (no collection by civic agencies), schools were forced to burn low grade waste which causes air pollution in and around the school.

An incinerator to burn low grade plastic and paper in a school in Udhagamandalam, Tamil Nadu

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