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Cleanliness in schools = less truancy

By | July 7th 2010

By Michael Oriedo

Little Beryl stopped taking breakfast after she joined a new school in Embakasi in Nairobi early this year.

At first her mother Mrs Catherine Kamuyu thought the Standard Four pupil was protesting because she missed her former classmates and was having a hard time adjusting to her new school.

But the habit persisted and her grades nosedived. On consulting her class teacher, Kamuyu learnt that Beryl was inattentive in class. But the teacher assured her that her daughter’s grades would improve once she got used to the school.

But that did not happen. Instead, Beryl picked another habit — rushing to the toilet first when she arrived home.

Change schools

When her mother asked her about it, Beryl revealed that she never went to the school toilets because they were always dirty. Then it occurred to Kamuyu that her daughter’s refusal to take breakfast and her inattentiveness in class was related to the poor condition of the toilets at her school.

She informed the school management about what she had learned but they did not take it kindly prompting her to change schools.

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Mrs Mary Otieno, the head teacher of Komarock Primary School in Nairobi, says poor sanitation in a school affects a child’s academic performance.

"Some children, especially girls are very sensitive when it comes to using toilets. When the toilets are dirty, they will boycott them and wait until they return home to relieve themselves," she says.

In such cases therefore, Otieno says, the child will not focus on class work since she will be pressed. "If this becomes a habit," she explains, "The pupil’s participation in school is negatively affected. Such a child doesn’t answer a question in class or even volunteer to for anything."

Getting sick

Studies show that lack of proper sanitation impact on learning. For instance, clean drinking water in a school ensures that water is free from pollutants, which may cause diarrhoea and other water borne diseases. This reduces instances of children getting sick and skipping school. According to the studies lack of or inadequate sanitation facilities particularly toilets negatively affect girls’ education more than boys.

This is because girls need sanitary facilities that give them privacy. Where they share with boys, as it happens in many rural and slum primary schools, they are embarrassed, especially when they reach puberty. Consequently, some may drop out from school.

But despite the correlation between sanitation and children’s academic performance, our spot check in primary schools around Nairobi reveals that many lack the infrastructure that would help them maintain high standards of cleanliness.

One toilet

The Ministry of Education recommends one toilet for every 25 girls and one for every 30 boys. The guidelines also suggests that 50 pupils use one watering point.

In a school this writer visited in Eastlands, about 65 pupils use one toilet. The school with about 1,200 pupils has a single urinal block and 20 toilets, which are shared almost equally among boys and girls.

"They are not sufficient. Most of the time you will find boys relieving themselves on the grass. And girls who are put off by congestion during break time return during class hours," says the head teacher.

He says the problem is aggravated by massive enrolment of pupils in the school with the introduction of free primary education in 2003. "With the great numbers we received, maintaining sanitation became a challenge . The classes are always dusty and the toilets need constant cleaning which requires someone to do it," he says.

But as the school grapples with the problem, others have devised ways to improve their sanitation. Some ask parents to employ toilet cleaners while others use pupils to clean the facilities. Noisemakers and latecomers are usually punished to clean toilets.

Take a piece

Mrs Otieno says one of the best ways to improve sanitation in schools is by involving parents, teachers and pupils in the exercise.

"We use parades to remind pupils of the importance of keeping toilets clean. We inform them that the state in which they leave the toilet reflects their level of cleanliness. They keep this in mind and will report anyone who makes them dirty," she says.

She says parents can support such efforts by providing their children with toilet papers.

"Each parent can buy one or two toilet papers for their children in a term. The toilet paper will be placed in the classroom so that a pupil can take a piece when they visit the toilet," she says.

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