How can toilets promote education?
Over half of primary schools in developing countries don't have access to water and sanitation facilities. Today for World Toilet Day, we explore how increased access to education is closely linked with the availability of decent toilets.
November 19, 2018 by GPE Secretariat
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3 minute read
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The toilets and hand washing sinks at Kisiwandui primary school in Zanzibar. Credit: GPE/Chantal Rigaud
The toilets and hand washing sinks at Kisiwandui primary school in Zanzibar.
GPE/Chantal Rigaud

When we discuss solutions to ensuring more children can go to school, not many people think about toilets. But the availability of toilets can encourage children, especially girls, to go to school and remain in the school system.

The lack of proper toilets in schools threatens the education of millions of children in the developing world, who are at risk of getting sick due to poor hygiene, and subsequently miss school. The risks are even higher for girls.

A barrier to girls’ education

In developing countries, the lack of separate toilets for girls and boys is among the top barriers to girls’ education. When a girl reaches puberty, access to a separate toilet can be the decisive factor of whether she continues with her education.

When girls are menstruating, they need access to a water point and to have a place where they can dispose of their pads. Without this, girls may miss up to 5 days of school every month or worse, drop out of school completely.

A UNESCO report estimates that 1 in 10 girls in sub-Saharan Africa misses school during their menstrual cycle, which equals as much as 20% of a school year. 1
Girls may also be harassed or attacked when they are looking for a private place if their school doesn’t have toilets. Faced with these concerns, girls might choose to limit their consumption of drinks and foods, which can lead to malnourishment and eventually prompt them to drop out.
 
A lack of access to proper sanitation facilities poses a huge barrier to education as children frequently miss school due to hygiene-related diseases. Toilets and proper washing stations can help stop the spread of many diseases and parasites such as diarrhea.
Girls wash hands outside bathroom at Buddo Christian Secondary School - Day section in Buddo, Kampala
Girls wash hands outside the bathrooms at Buddo Christian Secondary School - Day section in Buddo, Kampala
GPE / Livia Barton

A simple solution that can have a significant impact

A lack of access to clean toilets poses a huge barrier to education, equality, and safety for children. GPE recognizes how clean and safe toilets can help improve access to school and increase retention rates.

GPE helps partner countries improve sanitary facilities at schools by financing the construction of toilet blocks separated for boys and girls.

For example, thanks to GPE grants, Nepal, Guinea, and Cameroon plan to construct separate toilets for girls and water and sanitation facilities. The Kyrgyz Republic will upgrade sanitation facilities in community-based kindergartens. Uganda plans to improve school facilities, including functioning girls’ and boys’ toilets and access to water and Kenya has committed part of its funding for the use of smartphones and tablets to collect and maintain current data on sanitation facilities.

Additionally, many partner countries’ education plans include efforts to ensure that as many girls as boys attend school by:

  • promoting safe school environments,
  • building water points,
  • providing sanitation facilities,
  • encouraging girl-friendly sanitation and menstrual hygiene management,
  • preventing gender-based violence.

Let’s not take toilets for granted: they play a key role in creating safe and healthy school environments where children can focus on learning.

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Great article, many thanks. Interesting to read about your work in Kenya with smartphones and tablets - we at Integrity Action are doing similar work in Kwale, Kenya with local organisations. We help secondary students to monitor the provision of education services at their own school - they report problems using our app, DevelopmentCheck. After about one year we've found toilets are one of the most frequent problems reported - and students have been successfully advocating for new toilets to be built, etc. Some of the data is available via https://developmentcheck.org/services/country/kenya?page=1

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