Quality Education Starts with an Education on Hygiene
-Aide et Action, Cambodia-
In the last few years, the Cambodian education sector has shown positive progress towards reconstruction. If Cambodia wants to achieve the country’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 on Education, ensure inclusive and quality education for all, and promote lifelong learning, the government needs to strengthen quality of education. The Royal Government of Cambodia has recognized the country’s needs in terms of building skills for learning and providing opportunities for access to technical and specialized skills for all. To reach its objective, the government has designed an Education Strategic Plan for 2014 through to 2018, which includes policies for inclusive education, gender equality and child friendly schools. In 2016, the budget for education increased to around 12% but it remains insufficient and the lowest education contribution in the region. Finally, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, has developed strategic plan Neary Rattanak IV to continue the government’s efforts to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women in Cambodia.
Aide et Action (AEA), the lead Non-Governmental Organization (ONG) for The Cambodian Consortium for Out-of-School Children, (CCOSC) composed of 23 partner organizations, acts to change the world through education. The Consortium is a nationwide project, which seeks to increase the primary school enrollment rate of children 6 to 15 years old and to contribute to a comprehensive Cambodian inclusive education system that caters to every child. The most vulnerable children in Cambodia, facing barriers to access education, consist of five main groups: street children, children with disabilities, children of ethnic minorities, poor children, overage children and children living in remote areas. Within 3 years, this coalition of association wished to reach approximately 57,372 out of school children (OSC). After 2 years of implementation, we have been able to enroll 42,052 children, with 46% girls in formal and non-formal education, and 48% girls receiving scholarship support to enroll and remain in school.
Upstream preparation to successfully carry out this significant project included a baseline study, to assess the current situation in Cambodia regarding education for out of school children. One issue that emerged was concerning poor school infrastructure. The study reveals that half of the respondents lived in households (58%) that do not have toilets. This situation in schools reflects also the poor hygiene conditions of the country, as nearly half the population does not have access to safe water and basic sanitation (UNICEF, 2014) and the rates go higher in rural areas. At first, one may not see the correlation between the lack of bathrooms and attendance in schools, but from the study, we understand that this lack of access to drinking water and bathrooms affects both the motivation of children to attend school and hygiene. This leads to illnesses such as diarrheal disease, skin disease, respiratory illnesses, intestinal and other waterborne and excreta-related diseases, but also public shame, and is one of main factors for high absenteeism. Moreover, the lack of bathrooms disproportionately affect girls’ attendance more than boys, especially among older students. When girls reach puberty, and do not have toilets in their school, many of them decide to drop out, to avoid feeling shame, as lack of water, privacy and sanitary products during menstruation can be a real nightmare.
An estimated 2.5 billion people globally lack access to proper sanitation, but we do not have exact figures on how many women in Cambodia are forced to drop out of school because of the lack of infrastructure. The survey also exposes that less than half of out of school children’s households have a latrine facility, and less than half of out of school children’s households were near primary schools that had drinking water and clean, sex-segregated bathrooms. In order to improve access to schools for girls, investment is needed on school sanitation infrastructure and hygiene, and can quickly improve attendance in a large number of girls out of school, through reduced absence due to illness, and also improve student motivation to attend school.
To address this issue and increase attendance in school, AEA Cambodia started a program on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), to offer girls and boys quality infrastructure at school and reinforce their health. In our community preschools, AEA has increased hygiene standards, by building toilets, providing hand washing stations for teachers and students, and informing teachers and students on the importance of hand washing and oral hygiene. Mme Samean Pich, mother of a little girl, explains smiling: “My daughter advised me to wash my hands after eating and to drink clean water” As a result of the adoption of good hygiene practices, “my children have fewer diarrheas, they don’t miss school and my medication costs have dropped,” she says.
Mr. Hiek, a teacher says “Children regularly brush their teeth and wash their hands several times a day. I now observe that they are less sick and less absent”. He adds “The hygiene course is one of our compulsory courses. It is important to lessen the spread of disease. I always remind my students to wash their hands before and after playing, before lunch, and before and after going to the toilet”.
Working through schools is the best way to reach entire communities. This is the reason why AEA Cambodia intensifies efforts to promote hygiene education in schools, with a special attention paid to girls, the poorest, the most difficult to reach and the most disadvantaged. Promoting key hygiene behaviors in schools is a first step towards ensuring a healthy physical learning environment for girls and boys. Moreover it is an investment for the health of future generations.
With the baseline survey, AEA will also be capable to generate accurate data for selected Cambodian Consortium project outcome and output indicators, providing a benchmark for assessing the project’s progress and impact. AEA will be able to demonstrate the improvements in the project for many years to come, and also see the weakness of the schools and education system in Cambodia, so they can work along with Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and others NGOs to ensure a quality education for all.