December is a month of special days, and we are not just talking about the Christmas holidays! There is World AIDS Day, World Disability Day, World Human Rights Day, World Anti-Corruption Day, and so on.
On World Human Rights Day, different groups use the ‘rights’ approach to advocate their own causes, ranging from the right to basic health to the right to be treated equal in the eyes of the law. Among these was one group that focused on education infrastructure as a human right: the right of children to safe and hygienic environment within which to learn and play. How many of our schools are truly safe and clean spaces?
A recent report indicated that one of the key reasons for girls dropping out of middle school is the lack of toilets (let alone clean ones) in many rural and government schools. But it’s not just girls in government schools who have trouble with school toilets – even where they are present. Ask a child in any school about the school toilets and more likely than not you will get an expression of disgust. Check the hallways and corridors and you will find corners hung with cobwebs and littered with paper and other detritus.
Why is that we pay so little attention to these details in schools? What is it that prevents us from maintaining clean (and therefore safe) toilets? It’s a concerted effort that requires time spent on education and monitoring, and open discussion – bathroom talk needs to come out of the closet and into the classroom! Children tend to suffer poorly maintained bathrooms (where they exist) in schools, and by the time they reach high school, come to expect this as a matter of course. The long-term consequence of this is that they end up accepting the lack of hygiene in other public spaces as well.
We shouldn’t stand for unclean spaces in our schools, or anywhere else – and we should make sure our children do not either.