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Sudhir Pillay 
A new management model is needed for school toilets – WRC ongoing study

School toilets often end up as the “Cinderella” of school infrastructure – a part of the school which is neglected and hidden from view and is often in appalling condition. And yet toilets are intended to meet one of learners’ most basic, unavoidable physical needs. So , if school toilets aren’t structurally safe or hygienic, they can pose a threat to kids’ health, dignity and even their lives – and these dangers can compromise their ability to learn.

Barbara Louton from Partners in Development (PID) gives guidelines on how to alleviate these challenges based on her ongoing research project funded by the Water Research Commission (WRC) entitled, “Evaluating the Design of Existing Rural School Sanitation Infrastructure and Developing a Model and Guidelines for Optimal Design.”

Keeping learners safe from harm

According to Louton, the first priority in school sanitation is that toilets are structurally safe for learners to use. If schools have pit latrines that were not built properly or have slabs that have become rusted, rotten or broken, there can be a danger of them collapsing while a child is using them. Another concern is that small children could fall through the toilet seat into the pit as the toilet pedestals do not take into consideration different sizes. What can the Department of Education (DoE) and schools do to ensure that toilets are not a threat to children’s lives?

·         Structurally unsound toilets must be replaced.

·        Technologies where the user doesn’t sit over the pit (like pour flush or low flush toilets) or where the pit is shallow (like urine diversion) should be recommended.

·         Infrastructure must be well-managed to remain safe. Many schools don’t have the knowledge and skills to be able to manage their toilets safely so a partnership is needed between the DoE and its schools to build capacity to monitor and enforce safety practices.

·         Inspect each toilet weekly to ensure that any safety issues are picked up before they become serious.

·        The School Governing Body must assume responsibility for attending to all safety repairs without delay, whether by arranging for skilled members of the school community to complete the repairs, contracting a technician or liaising with the Department of Education for repairs to be done by the Department.

·         Make sure that learners are not allowed to use any toilet that has a potential of collapsing. Either close the stall securely until the toilet is repaired or, if a block of toilets is too damaged to be repaired, make sure that the toilets are destroyed without delay so that no one uses them.

·         Installing urinals for both boys and girls gives children the option of avoiding the risks associated with pit toilets most of the time. See here for one model for simple urinals for girls: http://www.ircwash.org/sites/default/files/Achiro-2009-Urinals.pdf.

·        Smaller pedestals with smaller holes should be built for smaller learners so they cannot fall into the toilet.

·        Staff should be present when small learners use standard-size pit latrines to ensure that they are safe.

Some of the key findings of the study were that infrastructure and management of school toilets are somehow interlinked. Infrastructure, no matter how well designed and constructed at the time of handover, will not fare well if not managed effectively. The research also showed many children have fears of falling into latrines and also indicates that school pedestals should cater for different age groups. The research also proposed a new management model for school toilets which they are busy piloting.

Keeping learners safe from disease

Sudhir Pillay, WRC Research Manager responsible for special sanitation projects funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Africa says, school toilets vary in physical state from clean and tidy to shockingly unclean and unhygienic. A recent WRC study explored the issues around the management of school toilets: why are the facilities in one school faring better than another? What are the management practices in place in those good examples and how can we extend this to other schools?

Based on the research, the following practices could be implemented:

Every school should have adequate funds to hire a cleaner. This fund should be ring-fenced and include basic cleaning supplies and equipment.

·         A designated teacher should supervise and take care of the toilets.

·        The cleaner must be trained in disease transmission and effective cleaning practices: it is dermal contact points such as flush handles, door handles and tap handles which need to be sanitised with Jik several times throughout the day but often are never cleaned at all. Outside tap handles around the school property which learners use for drinking water and washing hands must not be forgotten.

·       Tap handles are the most dangerous point in a toilet because learners have to touch them again to close them after they have washed their hands. Tap handles can be replaced with simple and cost‑effective water-saving arm-operated levers so that learners don’t have to touch them at all.

·        Soap is a must in order for learners to be able to break the cycle of faecal-oral disease transmission. If learners abuse soap in the toilets, soap dispensers can be mounted outside the office so that their use can be monitored.

·        Basins should be mounted at different heights to accommodate learners of different sizes.

·        Staff, as well as learners, has been found to often have a poor understanding of disease transmission and good hygiene practices. More attention needs to be given to these in the curriculum.

Protecting learners’ dignity

Jay Bhagwan, WRC Executive Manager responsible for sanitation research recommends that school toilets be kept safe and clean not only to protect learners’ health but also to support their right to dignity and a secure and comfortable environment in which to learn. It is important that all toilets have doors to provide privacy and that girls do not have to share toilets with boys. Staff should make an effort to ensure the sanitation facilities for adults and children are kept clean and in a good state. 

Findings of the study, “Evaluating the Design of Existing Rural School Sanitation Infrastructure and Developing a Model and Guidelines for Optimal Design, will be published on the WRC Knowledge Hub in March 2016.

Compiled by Barbara Louton and Edited by Sudhir Pillay, Research Manager for Sanition Research Fund for Africa, email: sudhirp@wrc.org.za



Learners decorating the newly installed Pour Flush toilet in Cofimvaba , Eastern Cape
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