Sanitation and Hygiene in schools

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It is imperative to stress the importance of hygiene and sanitation from a young age; though sanitation and hygiene in schools, especially in India, is not given much importance. Sanitation is considered as one of the most challenging sectors to improve upon. An effective hygiene and sanitation requires an even stringent and effective public policy where schools under various government programmes can improve the appalling condition of Indian schools.

Supporting children’s right to clean and healthy surroundings, such as toilets and safe drinking water along with information on hygiene, positively inspires a generational change in the attitudes and behavior of a society. Schools, after the families, are the best demonstration centers to bring about such positive changes on a sustained basis. Hygiene is necessary for a child’s health, safety, and development. This applies particularly to schools in rural areas since they may lack certain facilities; as an example, the media often highlights periodic instances of students being forced to defecate in open. Without access to sanitation facilities, including clean water and toilets, and without hygiene practices like hand washing with soap, children may get sick.

There is a need to include hygienic practices in the school curriculum and to teach children about the importance that hygiene plays in their lives. In educational institutes lacking such amenities, separate hand washing stations and drinking stations should be setup with proper drainage provided for safe disposal of waste water. This highlights the importance of sanitation, another area where schools need more investment. The lack of adequate water impedes hygienic behavior, allows the toilets to remain both dirty and unfit for use. Schools should celebrate Global Hand Washing Day, as events like these provide special impetus to the cause and spread more awareness.

Additionally, it is important to distinguish between the separate needs of boys and girls. Often, schools have poorly designed facilities for girls, disregarding the consideration for the disposal of menstrual wastes; in some areas, girls even drop out from schools because of lack of sanitation facilities. Government schools lack way behind private one’s in terms of sanitation facilities, an area where the Government literally has to clean up its act; additional funds need be allocated to construction of adequate urinals and lavatories in accordance with the strength of the school. Parents should choose schools that offer proper sanitation facilities for their children, along with the other, more typical factors such as distance, school reputation, and so on; this will also force those schools found lacking to provide these very important facilities. Pilot projects can also help in this, by providing schools effective areas where they can work upon to improve the condition. Such projects have been neglected from a long time, thus hampering the overall state of schools in India.

Hopefully with the initiation of programmes like the Swachh Bharat” (Clean India Initiative), our schools can also have a better fate and can look forward to improved facilities which are paramount to success. Importance must be given to improve the coordination between communities and local schools to ensure proper hygiene standards are maintained in institutes. Above all, the ability to learn is influenced not only by the quality of teaching but also the cleanliness of surroundings, accessibility to potable water, sanitation, and good hygiene practices. To learn well, children have the right to be as healthy and happy as possible. Having clean water and proper sanitation facilities significantly contribute to a happy childhood. Good co-ordination between government programs and schools can help in the improvement of these facilities. If given due attention, India can truly achieve the dream of becoming a clean and healthy place to live. The mantra, though has to be – My India, my responsibility.

Sex Education in India

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Imagine living in a country with a population of 1.2 billion people, where sex education, even in today’s context – with advent of technology and people becoming more open to social causes – is considered a taboo. Traditionally, adolescents in many cultures and societies were not given any information on ‘sex education’, but to everyone’s bizarre surprise even after years of educational reforms, the country hasn’t witnessed any significant alterations in the mindset of a large chunk of population.

People live in same old connotation that it is ok to have sex, but talking about it with children is still considered a strict ‘no-go’. Although, families have become more open to talking about menstruation but reproduction or any other sex related topic is still off-limits in many homes. The major misconception amongst people is the assumption that, sex education relates only to teach children about reproduction, menstruation, or awareness of body parts of the opposite sex. In reality the domain of sex education is vast and includes issues like – awareness about safe sex, use of contraceptives, respecting your opposite sex, prevention of sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS.

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The responsibility of educating our children lies with schools and consequently the state/union government by enacting better schemes and policies. The recent WHO report states that for the better understanding of the concepts, sex education should be imparted to children between the age group 12-19. Over the years, sex education has become one of the most talked about issues, which has further polarized the whole world into namely two groups; one pushing for implementation of the schemes in schools and the other signing petitions to stop it.

The recent surge in the cases of rapes and molestation have been attributed to a lot of factors like illiteracy and poverty, but the root cause of the problem is the apathy that still majority of families prefer to ignore the importance of sex education. The recent UNICEF report states that 47% of girls in India are married before the age of 18 and 28.5% report first child birth before 20[i]. Children married at such young age will eventually lead to greater imbalance in families and the circle of ignorance will go on, until drastic steps are taken to improve the current situation. The increase in number of cases of STDs like AIDS can be attributed to lack of proper guidance at a young age. A WHO report reveals a shocking fact that – India had the 3rd highest number of AIDS affected patients (2.1 million by the end of 2013), only behind South Africa and Nigeria. 31% of these cases are reported among people belonging to the age group of 15 to 29[ii].

The appalling question is – If schools in India can organize various workshops to create awareness about issues like health and hygiene, than why not on sex education? Sex education in India gained some momentum in 1980s when the government enacted the National Population Education project – a programme highlighting the fact that increase in population leads to poverty. Since then, no major changes have been enacted in the education policy, on the contrary various political parties have signed petitions to remove the topic from the courses.

Educating the youth is the only way by which a complete eradication of this problem can be achieved. Making the topic more accessible for our children can make them to become truly empowered and understand the intricacies of the subject. Silence will only lead to children seeking information from misinformed sources; in most cases, teenagers end up seeking information from pornography, which can be more catastrophic than the actual problem. Instead of enacting sex education as a typical education policy in the school, it should cover key areas like psychology and social concerns. A competent sex education policy at school along with suitable communication between the parents and the children at home can bring a positive change.

[i] http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/2013REPORT.PDF

[ii]http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/india-has-3rdhighest-number-of-hivinfected-people-un/article6220483.ece