In July 2018 the Mail and Guardian featured an article by Boitumelo Lekalakala which shared research findings and insights by the Water Research Commission. 130 schools from the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal were part of the study which included site inspections as well as interviews with pupils, principals and cleaners.
Some of the key hygiene related findings from the article that remain top of mind for me are;
- 41% of schools surveyed had cleaners employed, but only 25% of cleaners said that they cleaned the toilets at least once a day
- 57% of cleaners said that they clean the toilets and kitchens with the same cloths
- The pupils’ perception of the facilities is concerning; 71% of pupils commented on toilet odour and 63% found the toilets dirty
- Not all the facilities had sanitary ware in working order (like basins or toilets)
This reminded me of an article featured in the European Cleaning Journal from June 2018 in which a YouGov study in the UK showed that 44% of children avoided using the bathroom at school due to poor levels of hygiene. The article highlighted the impact of hygiene on health, absenteeism and self-esteem.
Having read both these articles I agree that the risk to learners is exceptionally high when hygiene isn’t a priority. Cross-contamination which leads to illness and increases in absenteeism compounds educational challenges in these schools. Poor bathroom conditions also discourage pupils from using the facilities and in some cases, children are avoiding food and water to even further prolong having to use these facilities. We know that this behaviour leads to malnutrition which further affects a child’s ability to learn, as concentration and memory are affected. I’m sure you’ll agree that the implications are far-reaching.
One needs to consider where you can make the greatest impact, as the remedy to these concerns are complex due to the competing requirements for resources within education. With regard to the provision of resources, there really should be a mix of government and private sector initiatives.
Where we can all have an immediate impact is through education. There are many corporates and individuals committed to hygiene-related causes, and there are free resources available that promote good hygiene practices. At Initial, for example, we support Global Handwashing Day annually and this year we started our Hygiene Angels: Keeping Girls in School project.
I would like to encourage you to get involved in any way you can; join a community project, donate, educate or start at home with the hygiene education of your own children - consider Global Handwashing Day as a starting point.
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