At least 23% girls are out of school by the time they hit puberty, mostly because of the lack of proper toilets in school. Community Correspondent Krupakar Chahande’s video shows how technology can be used to monitor government facilities in school and help lower the figure in the long run.
Trupti Chahande is a student at a primary school in Maharashtra’s Chaogaun village. Till eight months ago, her school had no toilets and she, like the 150 odd students of the school, had to defecate in the open.
When Community Correspondent Krupakar Chahande heard of the problem of sanitation at the school, he decided to make a video on it. It was not only toilets that the school was lacking but also drinking water facilities and a proper playground. Krupakar made a video report documenting the problems and showed it to the Principal of the school along with the School Management Committee.
After a series of meetings, it was decided that the money for the required repairs and construction would come partly from the annual government fund that the school receives and partly from the Principal’s personal bank account. The Principal is to be reimbursed by the government. Once the funds came in, it did not take much time for the construction and repairs to fall in place.
Trupti’s school now has toilets, albeit without running water, but access to toilets is a step forward in itself. According to the latest ASER Report (Annual Status of Education Report), 31.3% schools in India still don’t have usable toilets. Overall, though, there has been a 20% increase in the number of usable toilets in six years between 2010 and 2016.
But the mere construction of toilets, which is all that the government counts in meeting its targets, does not make them usable. According to a report by Dasra, experts say that maintenance and repair of the toilets plays an equally important role; students, especially girls, should not be seen only as targets but as users.
The government’s Clean School Campaign guidelines make room for special toilet facilities for children with disabilities and for menstruating girls. Most schools surveyed in the studies by ASER and Dasra do not have any ‘extra’ facilities like private spaces for changing, and incinerators and dustbins.
Experts have also laid emphasis on the need for behaviour-change. If students have not been using toilets all their lives, chances are they are not going to start using them overnight, and both school authorities and government targets should keep this in mind.
But let’s take a step back. Do schools in India even have the toilets that the government claims it has built?
Tall claims of 100% toilet construction in schools
In August 2015, a year after the government launched the Clean School Campaign, the then HRD Minister Smriti Irani tweeted that they had built 4.17 lakh toilets in 2.61 lakh schools in a year, declaring that all government schools now have toilets. In Maharashtra, the government claims to have met its target of 5,586 toilets. But Krupakar’s video is evidence enough that that is not true.
While Krupakar’s video is one example, a fact check report contradicts the government’s data on various grounds, right from the discrepancies in the estimate of how many toilets were needed to the number of toilets actually built and the number of toilets repaired. An analysis of government data shows that on an average, 4500 toilets were built per day. Many of these toilets were built without proper drainage, and in one case, a toilet was built at a site from where the school had been moved a year ago. The government is, evidently, constructing toilets to make its number look good on paper. Whether these toilets are being maintained or used or even properly constructed does not make it to tweets and press releases glorifying the campaign.
Effect on dropout rates among girls
On the ground, such warped data has real-time implications. Without usable toilets, girls like Trupti can have their education and prospective careers cut short, and reports also suggest that this makes them more vulnerable to child marriage. At least 23% girls in India drop out by the time they hit puberty, and the lack of toilets in schools is the main reason behind this.
In August 2015, just after the government announced that it had met its targets, over 200 students of a government-run residential school for girls in Jharkhand left the school because of lack of toilets. The school did not have enough toilets, forcing girls to go to the fields to defecate, where they would be sexually harassed.
Can technology help?
The Madhya Pradesh government has an app called GIS@School which allows students, teachers and government officials with smartphones to take pictures of defunct or unsuitable facilities in schools, which are automatically geo-tagged and time-stamped. Osama Manzar, founder of the Delhi-based Digital Empowerment Foundation, believes that a simple technological intervention and monitoring like the mobile-based app can go a long way in ensuring basic amenities.
Krupakar, too, first reported on the school in Chaogaun through his smartphone; he shot and edited a mobile journalism video documenting the state of the toilets and playground and showed it to the school authorities. He also revisited the school authorities for follow-ups and supported them by suggesting ways to procure funds.
For a school not to have a toilet is one thing, but for the government to use a toilet without running water and other basic amenities to promote and glorify its agenda is another. In situations like this, monitoring the government’s work and holding them accountable is important. And technology, like Krupakar’s video, amongst other initiatives, demonstrates, can play a useful role.
Video by Community Correspondent Krupakar Chahande
Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV Editorial Team