According to UNICEF, factors related to water, sanitation and hygiene affect the children’s right to education in many ways. In an atmosphere of poor health, children are unable to fulfill their educational potential. For example, 400 million school-aged children a year are infected by intestinal worms, which, research shows, sap their learning abilities.
School is important for cognitive, creative and social development of children. So is the School Sanitation and Hygiene Education (SSHE), necessary for the safe, secure and healthy environment for children to learn better and face the challenges of future life.
The promotion of hygiene and sanitation practices in schools has been an interactive perspective of many education stakeholders to broaden its conceptual focus from the community orientation to school children base foundation. It is well recognized that schools offer an important foundation point of entry for upgrading the child’s profile of hygiene and sanitation behaviour at the same time improving the environmental health conditions in schools and surrounding communities.
UNICEF and its partners focus resources on improving the health of school-aged children, highlighting the need for hygiene promotion, life skills development and water, sanitation and hand-washing facilities in schools.
It is believed that children, when well prepared under a stable foundation, they can become sources of behaviour change and become the sole spices in the environment management perspective from school to their families and community at large.
Children who adopt good hygiene practices at a tender age, not only work as peer advocates but also are likely to grow-up to be equally conscious adults and later on transfer this knowledge, skills and practices to their families and their colleagues.
Basically, in many contexts the SSHE programme is not a self standing project but rather as an integration part of major community water supply and sanitation project which was meant to serve communities in different parts of the country.
The SSHE project emerged as it was realized that there is a need to consolidate on sanitation and hygiene issues to school children being part of the communities they serve so that they become concrete pillars towards behaviour change from school to family level.
According to Plan Tanzania’s 2007 SSHE report, in many schools health and hygiene programmes have not always been desirably fulfilled. In most areas, school learning environments are not promising for children whereby schools often have unhealthy and poorly cleaned classrooms and school compounds, children with poor hygiene habits particularly hand washing practices before and after visiting toilets and before eating, irrelevant health and hygiene education for children, dirty, broken and unhygienic sanitation and hand washing facilities.
Schools also have insufficient water supply, lack of operation and maintenance of most water and sanitation facilities and
most of the installed water and sanitation facilities are commonly out of use.
A report by Uwazi, a local NGO in Tanzania, on SSHE in selected schools in Dar es Salaam which was released in May 2011 revealed that many public schools in Dare s Salaam are faced with poor sanitation and health environment which threaten the health of both teachers and students. The government’s target on sanitation and health in schools is a ratio of 1 hole for 20 girls and 25 boys. However, in most public schools, the findings show that the current ratio is 1 hole for 90 students (1:90). Only in 11 schools (27.5%) have 1:47 ratio. Among these schools only six schools; Gerezani, Buguruni Viziwi, Oysterbay, Muhimbili, Mnazi mmoja and Amana, have adequate latrines according to the national standard.
It was also revealed that most of these schools do not have access to water services, hence many latrines are in worse conditions due to lack of proper cleaning. This is just an example of a few schools in Dar es Salaam only. There are many schools which have worst conditions throughout the country.
Schools can be a key agent for initiating change by helping to develop useful life skills on health and hygiene. Children are often eager to learn and willing to absorb new ideas. New hygiene behaviour learned at school can lead to life-long positive habits. Teachers can function as role models, not only for the children but also within the community. School children can influence the behaviour of family members - both adults and younger siblings - and thereby positively influence the community as a whole. It is also more cost-effective to work with children in school-based programmes than with adults.
A school child educated to the benefits of sanitation and good hygiene behaviour is a conduit for carrying those messages far beyond the school boarders, bringing lasting improvement not only to his or her health and wellbeing, but also to that of the family and wider community. It is difficult therefore to over-emphasise the importance of school health and hygiene education.
UNICEF has developed a manual on SSHE, which can be utilized by any school to ensure that there is improvement in school sanitation. School sanitation is an integral part of UNICEF’s efforts in more than 30 countries.
The combination of adequate facilities, exhaustive behavioural practices and hygiene education pupils meant to have positive impacts on health and hygiene conditions of pupils and the community as a whole, both today and in future. The success of the school hygiene programme is therefore not only determined by the number of latrines constructed and the number of hand-pumps installed but by what the children have learnt both from school and from our surrounding family environments.
The SSHE projects should mean to improve the quality of life of the pupils, seeking behaviour change and consolidate them as peer behaviour change stirrers at school as well as at home. Hence, the findings were based on the documentations, field observations and information provided by the communities and other stakeholders. We trust we have well and correctly assessed the progress of the project, impacts (negative and positive), weaknesses and strength, sustainability and future replicability to other parts of the country.
For maximum impact, SSHE project has to be sustainable. Collaboration in several areas with different stakeholders is an important element in meeting the set out objectives. Collaboration between non government agencies and government departments (health, water, sanitation and education etc at all levels), between professional disciplines and between the school management and the community is of vital importance. Those are the foundations for providing schools with clean water and well designed and maintained sanitation facilities, a health school environment is a platform for competent teaching to implant the hygiene habits that can bring lasting benefits to entire communities. The idea among most community members that any donor or government supported facilities belong to the donor/ government should be abolished; community ownership must appear in all SSHE activities. Nevertheless, the community shouldn’t be too dependent on aid all the time.
The writer Masozi Nyirenda is a Specialist in Education Management, Planning, Economics of Education and Policy Studies; he can be reached through 0754304181 or [email protected]