Lessons in WASH That Make the Grade In Schools

by Belinda Abraham

Back to school is an exciting time for children all over the world. Ideally, following a long summer break, children have an opportunity to get new uniforms, clothing, shoes, school books, and supplies. They enter clean classrooms with functional facilities, renovated and painted over the summer months. They meet refreshed teachers eager to start the new year. When this combination of happy students, clean environment and receptive education authorities come together, this leads to the wonder of learning, creating and expanding the possibilities that children have with education.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) recognizes the importance of this integration. Under SDG 4, schools are not only places for academic learning, they must also promote health and be safe places. These objectives are supported with specifically articulated targets for health and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). These sectors are also represented in SDGs 3 for Health and 6 for WASH.

Over the years, Thrive Network’s programs have recognized that the key to education lies beyond just the school building and curriculum. It is the opportunity for schools to become exciting places of learning where the education sector takes responsibility and leads in the development for the next generation. Several initiatives have shown positive results in school attendance, health and overall outcomes for children. Under the Dubai Cares supported program, here’s what Thrive Networks and partners have learned, as lessons that bring change in schools:

  • Children’s participation is impactful: Whether getting children’s feedback on facility designs or getting them involved to paint messages on walls, children’s participation is important for their practical and life skills learning. Appropriate and meaningful participation of children will also ensure that can benefit from the project. One example is under the Deworming Project in Vietnam funded by Dubai Cares, were the modifications of handwash facility designs after surveying how children used the facilities and where problems existed. The outcome has been a design which will be more durable and cost-effective for schools.
  • Brightly painted walls with informative hygiene messages or pictures help children change or maintain positive behaviors: Following work done in Bangladesh on ‘nudge paintings’ with Save-the -Children and University of Oklahoma, Thrive Networks embarked on a similar project to see if paintings located in strategic places would encourage or nudge children to wash hands after using the toilet. Our study completed in 2017, coordinated by Senior Research Advisor Per Ljung found that children were generally more likely to wash hands because of the nudge paintings on the walls and floors directing them to handwash stations. The brightly colored paintings made areas more appealing and created a conducive environment; positively oriented towards good hygiene for both teachers and students.
  • Teacher training is a good investment and can generate commitment and compliance: Experience shows that when teachers are well trained, it not only increases their commitment but compliance. As demonstrated in the deworming campaigns in Vietnam schools funded by Dubai Cares, researchers found that there was a nearly 100% compliance rate on the deworming protocols following teacher training. This, in turn, made the deworming program more impactful as over 95% of children were dewormed, an exceptional achievement. This means healthier children with decreased absenteeism from school because of related soil-transmitted helminths (STH) or parasitic worm infection.
  • Public, Private Partnerships plus Parents (PPP- plus) are a winning combination in schools: For schools, public and private partnerships are important but not enough without parents. When parents and communities are involved, the results for children in schools are optimal. Our research, under the random control trials under the Dubai Care project, demonstrated that when children came from homes who practiced good sanitation and hygiene, they were healthier and had a decreased likelihood of worm re-infestation following school-based deworming. The most effective programs work with all partners, like the Ministry of Education, and private sector like UNILEVER to engage students, parents and their communities in hygiene education and sanitation promotion.