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The Shocking Reason Why Students Are Dropping Out Of Schools, And A Simple Solution

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By Swaniti Initiative:

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 enrol 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.

school dropout

Sanitation infrastructure

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.

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
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

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/she 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 due to lack of 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 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.

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This article was originally published by IndiaSpend.

You must be to comment.
  1. Babar

    …enrolment of girls had declined to 48.2% from 48.36%.

    Is that really a decline? And why do we always mention separate toilet for girls and not separate toilets for boys and girls? Furthermore, yet again, the article is concerned only about girls education rather than the education of both boys and girls. Also, the only reason why poor people are not able to educate their children is due to financial restraints, not because of lack of toilets or sanitation. Also, in many poor families, where men only have enough to educate one or two children, they educate their boys because girls have the option to become homemakers. Even then, due to poverty, hundreds of thousands of boys across the country work as child labourers.

  2. Aravind Get

    Sanitation is a basic human rights and government should pay for this like funding for other infrastructural development.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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Find out more about the campaign here.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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