Topic 2 - How has shifting responsibility to the Ministry of Human Resource Development affected School WASH (India Chapter Thematic Discussion)

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Topic 2 - How has shifting responsibility to the Ministry of Human Resource Development affected School WASH (India Chapter Thematic Discussion)

Dear all,

The Swachh Vidyalaya mission strives to improve WASH in schools. The aim is to improve children’s health, school enrollment, attendance and retention, paving the way for a new generation of healthy children.

Swachh Vidyalaya is led by the Ministry of Human Resource Development that is responsible for education; however, this was not the Ministry’s first foray into WASH in schools. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act (2010)1 in India provided for free and compulsory education for children between 6 and 14 years under Article 21a of the Indian Constitution. The Act mandated all schools to have separate toilets for boys and girls and adequate safe drinking water facilities. Reinforcing this mandate, the Supreme Court in 2011 directed the Union and State governments to provide this infrastructure in all schools by start of academic year in 2012. However, gaps remain. Provisions for children with special needs also lags. The Ministry the Swachh Vidyalaya Abhiyan in 2014 to ensure full coverage by 2015.

The SV Campaign is a well-conceived programme with a comprehensive approach to improving WASH in schools. It includes ensuring drinking water, hand washing, toilet and soap facilities in the school compound for use by children and teachers. It also includes hygiene activities for a clean physical and social environment to prevent WASH-related diseases. It enhances the capacity of teachers, community members, school management committees and education administrators to improve conditions. It also seeks to improve the curriculum and teaching methods while promoting hygiene practices and community ownership of WASH in schools.

On 14th August 2015, the Government of India declared 100% sanitation coverage in all schools of India. Even though significant progress has been made, experiences from the field suggest that the construction of toilets alone is insufficient to end open defecation and promote hygiene behaviour in educational institutions.

Functionality
An important component of toilet use is functionality. Assessments have found that toilets may exist but are not always functional, precluding their actual use by students. To be functional, the student-toilet ratio must be maintained and water, ventilation and sufficient lighting should be present in toilets, with adequate safety and privacy measures (e.g., latches) on doors.

Operations and maintenance (O&M) is critical. This goes includes all managerial aspects necessary to run WASH infrastructure such as selecting the personnel for WASH committees (school management committees and student committees), purchase and management of spare parts and hygiene material, financial management, management of assets and the planning of extensions. O&M is often poor, with insufficient funds and lack of oversight. The SV Mission articulates O&M activities to be undertaken in schools. These can be actualized through efforts that 1) Build institutional capacity for O&M, 2) Develop plans to operationalize O&M functions (e.g., hiring cleaners, purchase of cleaning materials, developing cleaning schedule), 3) monitor O&M, and lastly 4) Offer adequate financing for O&M activities.

The availability of water, particularly safe drinking water, remains a concern in many schools. Moving forward, efforts must centre on 1) ensuring the daily provision of child-friendly, sustainable safe drinking water, through the year, and especially during summer months where water shortage is an issue; 2) Safe handling and storage of water, and 3) Availability of water for use in toilets.

Hygiene
Hand washing at critical times (after toilet use and before eating) is critical. While the SV Mission has clear-cut recommendations. it has received less attention than toilet construction. If students are to benefit from using a toilet, they must have access to functional hand washing facilities with soap and water in or near the school toilets, and in or near the eating area (where the mid-day meal is typically served). Additionally, sufficient number of hand washing stations are required to meet the needs of the school population.

While the establishment of physical infrastructure is essential to promote sanitation, it is not sufficient. Hygiene education is critical in nudging students and teachers towards using infrastructure. Schools must now focus on conducting regular training for teachers on hygiene, sanitation, and menstrual hygiene. Key hygiene messages include latrine use for urination and defecation, hand washing at critical times and appropriate menstrual hygiene management.

Institutions
School management committees (SMC) are existing institutional mechanisms that can ensure that school are WASH secure. They can be supported by capacity building, setting up student cabinets and parent teacher associations. They can be assigned responsibilities to monitor WASH infrastructure and hygiene education activities.

The SV Mission is an ideal opportunity to comprehensively address and improve WASH in Schools. With progress already made in terms of toilet construction, the time is ripe to focus attention on other WASH aspects to engender a healthy learning environment in schools.

I am seeking your comments on how shifting School WASH to the Ministry has affected the situation on the ground. Please share examples from the field.

Regards

Arundati Muralidharan

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