Children all over the world spend large proportions of their time in school, where they build the foundations for the rest of their lives. Indeed, they learn value systems, cultural practises, and social behaviours in school, and the school environment impacts upon their feelings of self-worth and self-esteem. Creating a positive school environment thus plays a fundamental role not just in a child’s education but in their development and wellbeing.
There is a general understanding that the environment does, in many ways, shape the learner. A clean and well-maintained environment has been found to promote improved behaviour and academic performance. Armitage Shanks, a leading UK bathroom, sanitation, and washroom developer, have carried out extensive research in this field. They found that creating clean school toilets has a lot to do with promoting self-esteem and reinforcing to students that their school is concerned about their welfare.
School toilet facilities, however, in both developed and developing countries, are often not given enough thought. By not paying close attention to the conditions of these facilities, we risk underestimating the negative effects that this can have on school children. These negative impacts can be seen globally, albeit to varying degrees.
What are the negative effects of poor toilet facilities?
It has long been proven that health and education go hand in hand. It is also a well-known fact that schools are breeding grounds for illness, as large numbers of children mix closely together on a day-to-day basis. Hand-washing has been confirmed to be immensely effective in preventing the transmission of bacteria, so hand-washing facilities should be well thought through and in working condition. Schools that fail to provide all students with basic hand-washing equipment are risking both casual and more serious outbreaks of illness.
In an attempt to avoid school toilets, some children don’t drink enough water during the school day, which increases their risk of dehydration and bladder infections. In fact, 25% of children have suffered health problems as a result of not using the toilet when they needed to (Armitage Shanks).
Undoubtedly, children who are in physical discomfort will also become distracted during their lessons and their ability to concentrate will be adversely affected.
Many studies have looked into how a particular school’s physical condition has affected the academic achievements of its students. One, based in New York, argued that “the presence and the condition of [a school’s] features […] and the level at which they are maintained, are all factors in the quality of activities that take place in it”. This study found that the students who went to schools where facilities, such as toilets, were in disrepair, had a lower attendance rate and poorer academic performances.
A Global Problem
Whether children have access to clean toilet facilities should not depend on the geographical location of the school, the individual school’s preferences, or the socio-economic status of the children. Toilets are a human right and every school child around the world should have access to a clean, hygienic, and private toilet. If the statistics about school toilets in the developed world has resonated with you, it will not be difficult to imagine how these effects are multiplied in the experiences of children who live in countries where there are often no toilet facilities at all.
A school should be an aspirational place; a place where children feel motivated, inspired, and protected. This environment is the first community outside of the family where we all begin to understand our place in the world. Providing adequate facilities can help schools to become what they should be: sites of transformation and development.