My name is Justin Lupele. I am the Chief of Party of a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded project in Zambia called SPLASH (Schools Promoting Learning Achievements through Sanitation and Hygiene). SPLASH is implemented through the USAID-funded WASHplus project.
SPLASH’s overall objective is to sustainably improve access to safe water, adequate sanitation, hygiene information and health practices to improve learning environments and educational performance in Zambian primary schools.
Education quality is generally seen in terms of provision of books, teacher deployment, ICT, mobile technology, classroom construction, and learner test score performance, among others. But just as critical (if not more so!) is access to water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure. If clean drinking water, hygienic toilets, and places for hygiene practices such handwashing are absent in a school – we cannot talk about quality education.
Gender parity – equal enrolment for girls and boys – is a step towards the Education For All (EFA) goal of full gender equality in education. Gender equality includes making sure the school environment is safe, has good infrastructure such as separate latrines for girls and boys as well as menstrual hygiene management facilities for girls. When these are lacking, learners underperform, and girls may cease attending school altogether.
Unfortunately, ministries of education in most African countries often feel that WASH is better left to engineers. The WASH sector assumes that the MOE is providing WASH in schools. Sadly, this pillar of quality education is often neglected. A survey by UNICEF found that in 41 priority countries, fewer than 50% of schools had adequate water and sanitation.
SPLASH and other MOE partners are committed to provide equity of access to quality education. The project works in 616 schools in Eastern Province of Zambia to improve WASH facilities such as boreholes and latrines (with washrooms in girls’ latrines).
The SPLASH project also provides a comprehensive hygiene improvement program focusing on healthy habits such as treating drinking water and hand washing with soap. Key activities related to the subject of discussion this afternoon include:
- Constructing and rehabilitating school WASH facilities such as boreholes for safe clean water, toilets and pit latrine;
- Introducing enabling technologies for good hygiene habit formation e.g. handwashing facilities;
- Inclusion of washrooms in girls toilets for the purposes for menstrual hygiene management so that girls are kept longer in school once they attain puberty; and
- Assuring a sustainable operations and maintenance system for the built facilities within existing Government of Zambia institutions and community structures.
Opportunities to learn
Investing in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure in schools improves learners’ opportunities to learn. This is translated into:
- Improved teacher pupil contact time. Teachers and learners spend more time on the pedagogical processes of teaching and learning due to reduced illness and absenteeism;
- Improved attendance – anecdotal evidence from our work shows that attendance is improving in schools were SPLASH has intervened; and
- Teacher/learner attendance (girls and females), and retention.
Teachers are reluctant to work in underserved and remote rural areas, which lack basic facilities such as water and sanitation, electricity, good housing and health care.
- Improved pupil enrolment – from our work we have seen that enrolment numbers are increasing in schools with better WASH; and
- Increased days available for instruction especially for adolescent girls.
In order to achieve its objectives SPLASH works with a number of government, private partners and local communities around the schools. Local communities’ contributions in kind and financial terms add up to 35% of the total cost of the construction of sanitation infrastructure.
We cannot talk about quality of education in a school without water, sanitation and hygiene even if such a school had all the necessary text books and technology.