The following points are the main take-away from our school survey.
1. Government Schools versus Private Schools
Although the number of schools surveyed were limited to 25, it was very apparent, that government schools lag behind their private counterparts as far as WASH infrastructure was concerned. Volunteer groups such as ‘Whitefield Ready’ and ‘Let’s Do Some Good’ have both reported absenteeism amongst girl students in schools due to inadequate toilet facilities. Reports also suggest that in states like Karnataka, last year, 534 government schools had locked up rooms meant for class 1 because there were no admissions (data from Department of Public Instruction). In 9,503 schools, there were less than 20 students in classes 1 to 7. Other than reasons such as the state’s mother-tongue policy and the implementation of RTE, the condition of WASH infrastructure plays an important part. The Shikshana Trust in Bangalore that works in several government schools avers that by implementing the RTE scheme, the government is reiterating and perpetuating the fact that private schools were the ones parents should aspire for. Instead the government needs to work on improving the image and functioning of its schools.
The school curriculum and learning in topics such as ‘Waste Management’ and ‘Sanitation and Hygiene’ was unimaginative in both types of schools. However, some private schools have taken it up on their own to inculcate learning through hands on learning through activities and interacting with civic societies. These initiatives are either led through committed heads of institutions; teachers who have the support of the management; students led initiatives that have been encouraged by school managements. These models can be easily replicated by other schools as they are low on investment but require vision to execute.
2 Resources of learning outside the school curriculum- Content (Software)
There are interesting video resources on the importance of sanitation on the internet which have been compiled and assessed by us. These can be readily used by organisations, who are participating in sanitation interventions in schools and rural societies. However, there were inadequate book resources on sanitation.
Video resources on waste management was very inadequate and also only in English. Hence, there is a large scope for content development to spread awareness for children in rural India in their respective vernacular languages.
3 Role of WASH education
In the schools where there was active learning on WASH issues, teachers reported that the children could effectively influence their neighbourhoods too (e.g: K. K Educational Society, Bangalore & Lawrence School, Lovedale). Hence, it is not a cliché to say that education can help raise the next generation with knowledge that promotes sustainable water, hygiene and sanitation behaviour and create healthier societies. Also school can provide a starting point to influence the community as a whole. The role of children as positive influencers cannot be under-estimated and are most suited to trigger change and acceptance.
4 WASH Education – Infrastructure (hardware)
While private schools had adequate WASH infrastructure, it was woeful in many government schools. Vandalism, ‘goondaism’ are issues that are often brushed under the carpet. There were security issues in many schools that we visited. Cleaning staff were either not hired, not available or understaffed in almost all government schools. Even in some private schools where the staff are paid better, due to ‘aggressiveness’ of male students nobody wanted to do the job. Corruption was a big impediment in achieving good WASH infrastructure.