Although education has long been recognised as a human right, there is so much more to schooling that putting children in front of a teacher.Creating a positive school environment should become a universal goal, as it plays a fundamental role in a child’s development and wellbeing. Children all over the world spend large proportions of their time in school, where they build foundations for the rest of their lives. 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. It is, therefore, impossible to separate the development of children from their school environment.

School toilet facilities are often not given enough thought, both at the design stage, and in ongoing maintenance planning.  This is true in both developed and developing countries. Studies show that certain problems occur regularly in school toilets all around the UK. The main issues are the nasty smell, the fact that soap is often unavailable or unusable, and the locks tend to be broken. 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.


Negative Impact of Poor Toilet Facilities


In the UK, 73% of children are unhappy with the state of their school toilets, and a shocking 20% of students have admitted that this problem had prompted them to stay at home (Ward, 2004). 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. An extreme example of this type of avoidance occurs in countries such as India, where children (especially girls) often avoid school altogether as a direct result of inadequate or non-existent toilets. This shows how poor toilets can disrupt the learning process, and actively discourage children from attending school.

 It has long been proven that health and education go hand in hand. It is also a well-known fact that schools are a breeding ground for illness, as large numbers of children mix closely together on a day-to-day basis. Hand-washing has been proven 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. Shamefully, it has been estimated that 84% of all school toilets in the UK are not cleaned adequately, while 40% have no toilet paper or soap.

Letting school toilets fall into disrepair can also cultivate bad behaviour in students. If the schoolchildren can see that nobody respects this particular area of the school, why should they? As a result, neglected toilet blocks can easily become a space where the rules that apply in the rest of the school go unheeded, leading to children going to the toilet blocks purely to smoke and misbehave. This can create an intimidating place for other students. It is also not surprising that bullying often takes place in toilet blocks, as teachers are less able to interfere, and some students may feel as though a different set of rules apply in these ignored spaces.


Impact on Academic Performance


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.

Many other 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.

Significantly, many similar studies do not specifically mention sanitation facilities when discussing a school’s physical condition. Toilets are not just neglected in a literal sense, but also in the research that deals with the correlation between facilities and learning. This is inconceivable given the role that sanitation plays in one’s health and wellbeing, and even more so when you consider the fact that the students themselves have expressed that school toilets are their most important and valued facility. This illustrates how vital it is to ensure that the conditions of school toilets are given adequate consideration, as we work towards improving the situation for schoolchildren around the world.


School Toilets Worldwide


Whether children have access to clean toilet facilities should not depend on the location of the school, the individual school’s preferences, or the socio-economic status of the children. Toilets are a human right and every schoolchild around the world should have access to a clean, hygienic, and private toilet. If the above discussion about school toilets in the developed world has resonated with you, it will not be difficult to imagine how these negative effects are multiplied in the experiences of children who live in countries where there are often no toilet facilities at all.

Being aware of the problems that occur when toilet facilities are not of an acceptable standard, Sanitation First construct and install private and hygienic, odour free ecosan toilets. We also instigate a thorough hygiene education, in order to cultivate healthy practises and awareness of the links between sanitation and good health. Our data shows a 17.5% increase in the number of girls enrolling at the schools were we have built toilets. Often, these children become agents of change, as they use their experiences at school to educate their family and community about the benefits of healthy, hygienic sanitation.

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 the school to become what is should be: a site of transformation and development.


Key Words


| School | Sanitation | Health | Toilets | Schoolchildren | Global | Education |




Armitage Shanks, (no date) Don’t get bogged down, make that change.

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Duran-Narucki, Valkiria, (2008) School building condition, school attendance, and academic achievement in New York City public schools: A mediation model. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 28, 278-286. Available from: file:///Users/Rhiannon/Downloads/School_building_condition_school_attenda.pdf

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