I am also happy that School WASH now forms part of the MDGs. In Malawi almost 25% of the population are enrolled in primary schools – so it is obviously a big constituency. To highlight the importance, in 2011 the WASH sector in Malawi adopted School WASH as part of the “headline indicators” that must be reported in the annual WASH sector performance reviews in order to track performance.
However, I think that the indicators will only tell us how much resources have been mobilised, and how many facilities have been built. They will not tell us much about the quality of the facilities as they are used, and therefore, I have to vote that the proposed indicators do not take learners and teachers forward very much.
As someone with many years of experience in school WASH I think that the emphasis is still far too much on facilities, at the expense of quality of facilities. Of course facilities are essential, but research here shows that most often the facilities are poorly designed, poorly constructed, poorly used and poorly managed, making, for example, the use of school toilets an unpleasant experience for most children and teachers. I also have to admit that many of us stakeholders involved in school WASH do not have a strong understanding of how facilities can be designed to make them more user-friendly and easier to manage and maintain. These designs don’t have to be so complex. First of all when children visit the toilet (at least in our Malawi experience) most want to urinate not shit. Urinals are essential component of school WASH as they make toilets less crowded, less messy, less smelly, and they are cheaper to construct per post than toilets and can accommodate more children per unit time than toilets. When it comes to toilet design, it is almost always a dark, smelly pit latrine, with a squat hole that is neither of the right size or the right position (and these will be considered to contribute to the total tally). It is also easy to make a couple of the girls’ toilets a bit bigger to accommodate changing, and also perhaps a friend who can accompany the girl. It’s also amazing to think that teachers’ toilets are often forgotten and then the teachers have to commandeer a student’s toilet, which then makes the student per toilet ratio even higher. Shouldn’t teachers’ toilets should be a little more special to uplift the status of teachers.
It appears odd that JMP does not admit that shared toilet facilities are “improved” because of the (I think sometimes false) assumption that shared facilities are not always well managed, and yet we know that many, if not most school toilets facilities are not well managed.
One tool that I have found useful is the Service Delivery Approach that is developed by IRC, and can be easily adapted to school WASH – this has 4 criteria of access, durability, usability and environment.
School have many demands – toilets being only one of them. Many parents find it strange that partners can invest thousands of dollars on school toilets when classrooms are dilapidated, there are not desks, no books etc, so we also have to have a bit of proportion when we are designing and investing in school WASH. Quite a challenge!
So will the indicators tell us how many children and teachers are happily using nice clean toilets? I am afraid not.