Modi Is Right. To Stop School Dropouts, Fix The Toilets
Note: the left scale refers to the Sanitation metric while the right scale refers to Retention rate
Source: DISE Reports 2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14, Data on retention rates for Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Haryana and Goa not available.
In response to a question from a young student a few weeks ago, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that in the absence of toilets, girls who enroll in primary school do not continue in school for too long. A historical analysis of data from 23 States in India confirms this. However, it would be important to look at sanitation in our schools more holistically - availability of clean drinking water and facilities for washing hands are the other critical components of sanitation in schools.
India’s sanitation infrastructure in schools continues to be poor, as is evident from the following statistics.
• Nationally, 19.15% of primary schools do not have separate girls’ toilets, 6% of all primary schools do not have facilities for drinking water while 58.4% of all primary schools do not have a hand-washing facility near their toilets. (Source : DISE Report, 2013-14)
•There is considerable variation across States when it comes to having such infrastructure in place. While States like Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra are the top performers, North-East States such as Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and other States like Jharkhand lag behind.
Why Students Leave
While enrolment rates at the primary education level have increased significantly in all states in the past few years, retention of students remains a challenge. At the All-India level, more than 17% of students who enrolled in Class I in 2009-10 did not enrol in Class V in 2013-14.
Moreover, there is a sharp, direct correlation between sanitation infrastructure in schools and retention of students in primary schools. (shown in the figure above). The Sanitation Metric used for this analysis is an equi-weighted average of 3 metrics tracked by DISE –
- a) % schools with girls’ toilets
- b) % schools with hand-washing facility near toilets
- c) % schools with drinking water facility.
The average value of this metric has been derived over a 5 year period from 2009-10 (when a child would have enrolled in Class I) to 2013-14 (when he would be in Class V).
Sanitation can influence retention in several ways. First, an absence of toilets, particularly for girls, makes it impossible for them to continue in school. Unlike in homes, alternatives such as river banks or secluded spots cannot compensate for the absence of a toilet. Second, sanitation facilities such as toilets and hand-washing have a direct bearing on a child’s health. Insanitary conditions are the principal cause of ailments such as diarrhoea. And prolonged illness could eventually lead parents to discontinue their child(s)’s education.
Third, there is a clear link between lack of sanitation and malnutrition as has been conclusively established as part of several research findings. Acute anaemia due to under-developed absorptive capacity in such children may also lead to students dropping out of school. This problem could be aggravated as school kitchens under the Mid-Day Meal Program also suffer lack sanitation and hygiene. On the flip side, sanitation could have a positive impact on a student’s cognitive and retentive ability, which could motivate children and their parents to continue with their schooling.
A report released some time back by the Ministry of Human Resource Development said nearly 20% schools have no toilet facilities for girls and enrolment of girls had declined to 48.2% from 48.36%. IndiaSpend had also reported earlier about lack of basic amenities in India's schools.
Therefore, while improving the quality of teachers and other infrastructure is important to increase retention rates, it is quite evident that good sanitation facilities also have a direct bearing on the inclination of students and parents to continue with primary school education. A special focus on the North-East is critical in this regard, since the quality of sanitation infrastructure in schools in the North-East is quite poor as the figure above indicates.
The Central government’s programmes of National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) and Swacchh Bharat Abhiyan, as well as a recent directive to improve sanitation in school kitchens, should hopefully address these challenges and ensure that all students are at least educated till the basic primary level. Yet, as the PM also observed, a behavioural change at the grassroots is critical for such programmes to succeed. This would involve a concerted effort from all stakeholders – schools, parents, students and the administration.
The authors would like to acknowledge Swaniti, a Delhi-based NGO, which offers research and analytical services to legislators, as the source for information on various Centrally Sponsored Schemes.