As the Roman poet Ovid once said, “The lamp burns bright when wick and oil are clean.” Students are those lamps who will brighten up society and drive a country to its ultimate prosperity. To do that, students need to have proper education and good health. Basic, usable WASH facilities at school are a logical prerequisite for this, as students spend most of their day at school.
Development Organisation for the Rural Poor (DORP) is relentlessly working to develop proper water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) facilities in schools situated in remote regions of Bangladesh. In the last two years, we have found that the lack of proper and functional WASH facilities cannot only be attributed to limited resources but also to a basic lack of awareness and the absence of accountability and participation: School Management Committees, teachers, and guardians are often reluctant to take up issues around student needs for water and sanitation in schools.
School toilets in Bangladesh: a dire situation
While most schools spend most of their budget on infrastructure, the maintenance of WASH facilities is neglected and budgets for this remain minimal. The National Hygiene Baseline Survey 2014 found that six out of every ten latrines in primary schools were locked, and only a quarter of them were clean. While 79% of all schools had at least one functional toilet, unhygienic conditions, locked doors and inadequate facilities contributed to the low use of the toilets by students. Frequently, there was no maintenance plan, no cleaning schedule and no specific responsible person to hold accountable.
Bangladesh is committed to meeting the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 6 on access to water and sanitation. In support of this, the Ministry of Education of Bangladesh released an official order called the Secondary School WASH Facility Improvement Circular in 2015. The Circular highlights issues around WASH in educational institutions and gives 11 directives mandating schools to improve access to WASH facilities. However, most schools do not comply with the circular. A lack of awareness and coordination among all stakeholders of schools is one of the main reasons for poor compliance.
A new ingredient: supporting School WASH with integrity
In this context, DORP saw value in applying an integrity lens to assess and improve the situation in schools. It launched the Integrity in School WASH project with WIN in Bhola and Ramgati Upazila in 2017. Under this project, we are working with 30 schools on different activities including research, lobby, advocacy and awareness raising. The main objective of these activities is to first introduce and establish the concept of integrity among different stakeholders and to then assess developments in WASH facilities in schools. Participation of different stakeholders, including students, has been a key lever of action.
The School WASH Team: mobilizing students to support WASH in schools
Activating what we call the “School WASH Team” has been one of the more successful approaches to ensure WASH facilities in schools are built and maintained. In every school, this team monitors the overall WASH situation in a school and reports it to the principal. The team members take part in the Management Committee meetings to share their opinion on school WASH facilities. They also share information with the rest of the students. A special badge is given to every member of the School WASH Team, to recognize and further motivate them.
A School WASH Team is formed with two students from every class from grades 6 to 10. Team members are selected every three months by students and teachers through a fair process. In all co-education schools, an equal number of male and female students are selected for the team. Knowing that differently-abled children have specific needs in WASH facilities, the School Management Committee makes sure they are represented on the School WASH Team. At the end of the year, the School Management Committee rewards the best team of the year.
Evidence from the integrity work in schools in Bangladesh suggests that WASH facilities improved where the pillars of integrity (Transparency, Accountability, Participation and Anti-Corruption) were assimilated and promoted in schools and taken on board by active students and stakeholders. We are currently following up on the projects and organizing a series of events to advocate for further improvements and for clarifications on budget allocations. The aim is to keep up the good practices in schools and support the development of an enabling environment built on integrity for improved WASH.