WASH in Schools e-debate results feed into key international working groups

Updated - Monday 17 December 2012

Over the past three months, IRC has had the pleasure of hosting three e-debates around topics  inspired by questions asked during the implementation of the  SWASH+ Project , an action-research school WASH project in Kenya. The results from the debates have infiltrated key international working groups. These include the JMP post-2015 working group, the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA) and the UNICEF WASH in schools working group. The three e-debates attracted 27 participants who submitted 31 arguments in total.

The first e-debate took place in the first week of September 2012. The key statement was: “ The proposed indicators on WASH in schools chosen by the JMP Post-2015 Working Groups are a step in the right direction ”. We focused on the WASH in Schools targets and indicators published in the " Draft Long List of Goal Target and Indicator Options for Future Global Monitoring of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene".  Those who agreed with this statement mentioned the importance of reflecting the multi-dimensionality of WASH access in the indicators thereby creating political will and spurring increased investment of WASH in schools. There were nearly as many counter arguments ranging from the point that the indicators will not tell us much about the quality of the facilities to the opinion that the most important WASH indicators are those at the community/household level (see the full list of arguments at www.washinschools.info/page/2098 ). The fundamental point of this first e-debate may not have been so much about which group was “right” or “wrong” but creating debate and reflection on the issue around JMP post-2015 indicators as a whole in line with WASH in schools.

The second e-debate was held in the first two weeks of October and focused on the investment around WASH in schools. The key question was: When NGOs, donors and other stakeholders fund direct delivery of school WASH services, do they undermine the commitment of national governments and communities to do so?   Within The Hague WASH in Schools Framework for Action meeting, which was held from 24-25th of May 2011, a number of key challenges and recommendations were developed as part of the joint call to action 2011/2012. One of these key messages was the importance of increased Investment in WASH in Schools by donors to secure children’s health now and for generations to follow.  However, increased funding does not always mean wise spending; not only is the manner in which funding is spent crucial for success but some have called into question whether some types of funding, by virtue of their very source, can jeopardize long-term impact by providing services that are the responsibility of government. Again there was a balanced number of participants arguing for and arguing against the need for external funding for WASH in schools (see the full list of arguments at www.washinschools.info/page/2231 ). As one of the participants in the end of this e-debate noted, “It is difficult to place oneself on the yes or no side of this argument. In an ideal situation- that most of us are striving for- school WASH would be provided by governments. This is the end game, but we are clearly not there yet.”

The third WASH in schools e-debate which took place in the first three weeks of November focused on whether local governments will ever be able to generate enough resources to meet their policy obligations . Although the participation in this e-debate was lower than in the previous two, there were some interesting points for and against these statements. Within WASH in Schools, four key factors need to be addressed as reported by the participants, namely:

  • Policy : There is a need to involve all stakeholders in developing an intersectoral approach to WASH in schools that includes the education, health, water and sanitation sectors. In practice, the implication is that improved coordination among those with responsibility for WASH in schools must occur at the right times to ensure improved quality in WASH in schools programmes.
  • Institutional ownership : An institutional sense of ownership among the different actors, ranging from national government to NGO/CBOs working on WASH in schools is frequently lacking. Without such a mind-set, WASH in schools programmes will continue to fall in the cracks between responsibility and implementation.
  • Links between people and technologies : It is important to link construction of facilities to the software aspects of WASH in schools. It is also important to align the interests of the schools with those of parents and teachers so that construction, education and participation are linked together and operate in a sustainable and cost-effective way.
  • Education and capacity-building : The resources required to provide teaching and learning, particularly in relation to hygiene education, are frequently absent in schools. Moreover, the use of creative techniques to convey key messages is rarely part of the teacher-training programme.

To see the pro’s and con’s around the question if local governments are never able to generate enough resources to meet their policy obligations, refer to: washurl.net/fzute8

In summary it would be fair to state that the WASH in schools e-debates were a success. They have been able to (1) create additional awareness among a variety of different stakeholders who are directly and indirectly interested in WASH in schools; (2) infiltrate the results from each of the e-debates into one of the key international working groups e.g. for the JMP post-2015 indicators on WASH in schools the results have been sent on to the JMP post-2015 working group; for the external funding undermining national and local commitment e-debate  as well as the e-debate on the issue of national government in relation to school WASH,  the results were fed into the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA) and UNICEF WASH in schools working group.

It is our aspiration that through these WASH in schools e-debates more people will feel  professionally and personally inspired to take on the challenges around WASH in schools and in this manner contribute to making schools a safe and healthier environment for children now and in  future generations. 

Marielle Snel and Cor Dietvorst,  IRC