Investing on sanitation improves education outcomes

Thursday, August 11th, 2022 06:00 | By
Parents and their children camp outside Precious Talent Academy after the pupils were barred from accessing the school yesterday. Photo/PD/DOUGLAS LANGAT

When parents are scouting for options on which school is right for their children, the state of the school toilets among other hygiene facilities is just as important as its academic performance. This is because children’s safety from all harm, including that caused by poor hygiene, is the parent’s primary responsibility.

Lack of adequate sanitation and hygiene facilities, and their poor management, puts children at risk and decrease their opportunities to be safe and healthy. According to UNICEF, only half Kenyan schools have basic sanitation facilities. The situation is worse in rural areas where about 84 per cent do not have hygiene facilities. While many counties have advanced WASH access, many more still struggle to translate the policies to action and progress. This constrains Kenya’s overall ability to meet the SDG on health, education, WASH and gender equality.

Like most nations in sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya’s largest share of investment in education is normally directed towards building classrooms and hiring staff while construction and maintenance of hygiene facilities, including safe and improved toilets, is not accorded equal weight due to limitation of resources.

Dirty, smelly and unpleasant latrines, buzzing with houseflies and other insects, contribute to an environment that is unconducive for learning. Such an environment makes for a breeding ground for diarrheal and other communicable diseases that contribute highly to children missing out on school.

Without a doubt, proper hygiene and sanitation facilities and safe drinking water have been proven to provide a critical carriage in the delivery of better education outcomes. In turn, proper education opens opportunities to help lift households out of poverty, thus contributing to inclusive, sustainable development. The mere act of constructing improved latrines has seen an increase in student enrolment and class attendances in some regions.

Over the years, there has been progressive improvement in providing sanitation facilities to schools by corporates, national and county governments. However, a lot more investment is needed to address the challenges that contribute to the high prevalence of sanitation and hygiene-related communicable diseases, mostly affecting Africa.

Investing in toilets and other sanitation facilities benefits helps keep learners in class and healthy to enjoy education. Their households also cut on the huge cost of treating communicable diseases, which are a leading cause of death among children.

In addition, considering the strategic role that schools play in society as venues for public events and as polling stations during elections, investing in their sanitation facilities delivers exponential benefits not only to the school but to the communities. Furthermore, schools often serve as a model for communities, and good hygiene and sanitation facilities can inspire surrounding households to invest in a safe, reliable toilet.

Learners also serve as ambassadors for the promotion of proper sanitation and hygiene facilities. The 2019 census estimate that children under the age of 14 make up 39 per cent of the national population, which makes them effective agents of change in communities. This is critical in Africa, where WHO indicates only 16 of the 54 countries have less than 25 per cent sanitation coverage. UNICEF estimates only 29 per cent of the Kenyan population has access to improved sanitation facilities.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Initiatives such as those driven by SATO, a social enterprise tackling the global sanitation and hygiene challenges through innovative sanitation and hygiene solutions, are slowly sealing the existing gaps. Through its Schools Toilet Enhancement Programme (STEP), SATO has been upgrading schools toilets in underserved areas, most of which are in rural and informal settlements in urban areas.

From trials, the upgraded toilets with SATO innovations have been shown to require 80 per cent less water to flush, catering to the scarcity of water in parts of the country. SATO toilets are fitted with the innovative self-closing trap door that minimises the foul smell from the pits and the unsightly appearance of human waste while keeping flies and insects away. More importantly, it makes the latrines safer for children compared to open-pits. Such initiatives are key in ensuring every household uses improved and safe toilets.

Despite the progress, there is still a great need to accelerate and scale-up efforts in addressing improved access to school sanitation and hygiene in Kenya and Africa. This calls for the collaborative effort through partnerships with the Ministry of Health, corporates, individuals and groups to scale-up interventions that directly address the challenge. By working together and pooling resources, it is possible to improve more schools’ sanitation facilities and create conducive learning environments for learners, avert long-term healthcare risks and drive sustainable development.

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