Educational Journey with EPHAT MUDENDA
SCHOOL children ought to know that illnesses like diarrhoea are as a result of poor hygiene practices, such as not washing one’s hands with soap after visiting the toilet.
Schools are expected to put in place measures aimed at ensuring that every child is protected against diseases that may result from poor sanitation. Clean water (for drinking and other purposes), well-built infrastructure, including toilets and, in the case of boarding schools, bathrooms that promote good hygiene among boys and girls, and the kind of education that encourages healthy behaviours for life, must be present in an institution of learning.
When such an environment is provided for learners, then their rights to education, good health and participation will have been fulfilled, at least to a certain extent. But where sanitation is poor, water is either scarce or dirty, and hygiene behaviours are not appropriate, then the environment in a given institution will inevitably be detrimental to the health of children, who spend long hours in school.
Oftentimes, schools are places where young ones easily get sick because most of them have limited ventilation, lack hand-washing facilities, with no soap for pupils, and toilets are dilapidated. It is places like these where disease spreads very rapidly.
I know of a boarding school where, for a long time, pupils were forced to walk a considerably long distance to answer the call of nature in the bush, simply because the toilets in all the hostels were totally in a state of disrepair. Clearly, the learners’ right to good education and health had not been respected, because the bush, especially in rural areas, is never completely safe for human beings, as its inhabitants, including snakes, among other unfriendly and dangerous animals, that can pounce on the ‘enemy’ any time.
But with adequate facilities in which there is improved sanitation and water supply, among others, in educational institutions, whether boarding or day schools, gender equality can easily be achieved. Besides, there can be increased access to quality education and a reduction in the disease burden among children, especially with regard to diarrhoeal illnesses.
Life skills-based hygiene education is also important in the students’ educational journey. While it is good to teach children about the facts regarding health risks and bad hygiene practices, it is even more important that the learning process focuses on completely changing their hygiene behaviour, that of their families and the hygiene behaviour of society in general so that people’s quality of life improves in the long run.
Therefore, both practical and theoretical information should be imparted to children. For instance, they should be made aware that worm infections are caused by poor hygiene in their surroundings. So, it follows that for them to be in good health, they have to be clean all the time. Washing hands to prevent infection and diseases is a good practical example of maintaining high levels of hygiene among children.
Methods aimed at helping students to master hygiene skills should be participatory in nature. This is because young ones almost always enjoy and benefit from more participatory educational approaches. It is from their own actions, and those of their friends, that they truly learn while they are actively involved in various activities. In this way, they easily and quickly learn and adopt new skills and concepts.
A hygiene club in a school set-up can help in ensuring that authorities are always alert to the hygiene needs of pupils. Schoolchildren in such clubs are expected to be actively involved in advocating for a healthy school and community around them. As they learn about desirable hygiene behaviours in these clubs, they can be trained as peer educators who should help in spreading messages of good hygiene both within and outside the school grounds.
Parents and other community members can be involved in keeping schools clean, safe and healthy through activities organised by parent-teacher associations, among other forums. Indeed, children’s rights to education and good health must be respected by creating environments where there are high levels of hygiene, both at school and at home.