Hands up who thinks all schools should have clean toilets?
This World Toilet Day Domestos is going back to school to show how access to safe, clean toilets can improve pupils’ wellbeing and learning.
The World Health Organization and UNICEF recently carried out their first-ever global assessment of water and sanitation in schools. It showed that 620 million children and a third of schools around the world do not have adequate toilet facilities and that 47% don’t provide soap for children to use.
In South Asia the impact of inadequate sanitation on the education of adolescent girls means one in three misses school days each month due to lack of privacy and access to water to wash their hands after changing their sanitary towels.
And it’s not just an issue that concerns developing nations. YouGov carried out research for school hygiene provider Essity with more than 400 UK primary schools and 500 parents and children.
One in ten school teachers said they’d seen children avoiding eating and drinking in a bid to not have to use the school toilets and 46% of the children admitted to struggling to concentrate because they needed to go to the toilet but did not want to use the school’s facilities.
Creating an environment where facilities are maintained to a high standard is not as simple as squirting bleach around the rim of a loo.
To better understand how to create lasting behaviour change, Domestos commissioned a two-year research project in the Philippines conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical medicine and the Fit for School research team in Manila.
The aim of the research was to identify what practices and behaviours Domestos could help schools adopt in a bid to improve the operation and maintenance of their toilets.
The basis of the work was closely aligned with Sustainable Development Goal objectives to ensure any intervention would be scalable, sustainable and further the brand’s social mission to help 25 million people gain improved access to a toilet and make clean school toilets a right, not a privilege.
Teaching hours lost each year due to early years teachers cleaning up children after the toilet
Initial research looked at helping pupils practise hygienic toileting habits, but positive behaviour change was reduced if the toilets the children were using were not clean in the first place.
With the researchers’ help, Domestos created a cleaning programme that aimed to help headteachers and their facilities teams manage the upkeep of their washrooms.
Schools which took part in the programme were provided with a checklist and outline for a daily cleaning routine as well as a cleaning kit (including Domestos bleach), tools for minor repairs, self-assembled group handwashing facilities, soap and covered swing bins.
In return, facilities teams were asked to commit to ensuring that toilet seats, floors and walls were free of waste and standing water to reduce odour; that pupils had access to toilets at all times; that the toilets stayed repaired and unblocked; and that each door had a lock to allow pupil privacy.
The cleaning regimes were carried out for six weeks and mapped to student behaviour.
At the end of the programme, the use of soap and toilets had increased. The presence of covered swing bins had had an impact on the safe and hygienic disposal of sanitary towels and almost a third of pupils commented on the toilets being cleaner and less smelly.
The changes made to school washrooms and the positive impact this had in improving hygiene practices resulted in Domestos rolling out what became the Cleaner Toilets, Brighter Futures programme to four more countries: South Africa, Poland, Turkey and Vietnam.
“In Turkey, we also introduced a toilet tracker to see if the operation and maintenance programme had any impact. We saw a 25% increase in pupils using the facilities,” says Domestos Assistant Global Brand Manager Simran Gill.
“By rolling out a programme that improves the hygiene and sanitation of school washroom facilities, alongside educational initiatives which promote good toilet hygiene habits, we hope to create a virtuous circle of behaviours,” says Simran. “One which makes it easier for the school and facilities team to keep the toilets clean and which in turn sees children’s confidence in using the facilities improve.”
This year, to celebrate World Toilet Day, Unilever employees will be joining Domestos in its fight against poor sanitation. Employees will be heading into classrooms in the UK, Hungary, Kazakhstan and Vietnam to offer lessons in germ-busting through fun and interactive workshops.
The aim is to teach pupils good toilet and hygiene habits so they understand what they can do to help keep their environment (and themselves) clean and safe, with the result that everyone can enjoy access to clean facilities too.
Another positive outcome of increasing children’s confidence in using the toilet is a potential increase in teaching time. More than a million hours are lost each year in the UK alone by a fifth of early years teachers spending up to 30 minutes a week cleaning up youngsters after they have been to the toilet.
And the impact not only applies to early years schooling. Providing a safe, private space where adolescent girls can change and dispose of sanitary towels and wash their hands also reduces absenteeism and encourages them to complete their education.
“Domestos’ fight against poor sanitation is exemplary of the power of a brand with purpose,” adds Unilever’s Home Care President, Kees Kruythoff. “Together with their partners, the brand has helped more than 10 million people gain improved access to a clean and safe toilet, but there is much more that needs to be done. This year, we’re proud to see more Unilever employees joining this mission by going back to school and teaching the next generation the importance of sanitation.”