In 2005 the government approved the National School Health Policy for primary schools (grade 1–5) and pre-primary schools in Lao PDR with the aim of meeting the target of quality education and health for all children. The government’s school WASH target is to reach 50% of schools by 2015. The Ministry of Education and Sports is the lead agency in overseeing the implementation of the School Health Policy with involvement of Ministry of Health. In 2010 the policy was revised to include secondary schools.
The adoption of the “School of Quality” (SoQ) by the Ministry of Education and Sports has brought increased attention to school infrastructure and WASH needs. WASH is recognized by the government as an important intervention required for achieving the education goals. The newly approved National Education Quality Standards was the result of the implementation of SoQ concept which provides an opportunity for the government to scale up the concept nationwide.
AusAID is currently the major donor for UNICEF in the education sector. AusAID has provided a significant multi-year funding for improvement of water and sanitation conditions in more than 700 schools in Lao PDR.
UNICEF, WHO, French Red Cross, Save the Children Australia, Care, GIZ, Plan International and ADRA are key partners for WASH-in-Schools.
Quality and Coverage of WASH in Schools Programming
For over 10 years UNICEF has supported the development of resource materials to promote hygiene education and piloted the materials in target primary schools. The “Learning with Joy” toolkit or popularly known as “Blue Box” incorporates key messages into a set of story cards, songs, word cards, posters, cartoon booklets and games. The latest revision of the Blue Box was a result of the combined efforts of the Ministry of Education and Sports, Ministry of Health, UNICEF and WHO. The Blue Box became a model resource toolkit for creating a child-friendly and health promoting environments in Lao schools. It has been nationally accepted as a standard educational tool for teaching health and hygiene in primary schools since 2005. From 2011, the Blue Box materials have become part of the Schools of Quality teacher training module.
At the end of 2010 an evaluation of the toolkit was conducted to gain a better understanding of hygiene education in schools and assess its impact with both qualitative and quantitative evidence. The evaluation highlighted main achievement as having influenced the primary curriculum. The approach of introducing the Blue Box as a supplementary material, but with links to the core curriculum, has facilitated its eventual incorporation into the core curriculum. UNICEF and WHO have supported the review of materials and incorporated the recommendations of the evaluation.
The bottleneck analysis has identified key barriers to WASH-in-Schools of which functionality of facilities is a serious issue due to lack of proper operation and maintenance (O&M). To effectively address this bottleneck, UNICEF has supported the development of an O&M manual for schools with training plans for teachers in target provinces.
Recently, in order to improve the effectiveness of hygiene behaviour change programmes in schools and in addition to provision of water supply and sanitation facilities in schools UNICEF will support the Government to pilot a basic hygiene promotion package. This package will be piloted in selected schools along with evidence generation of the WASH in Schools impact through systematic formative and longitudinal research. A partnership was also developed with the World Food Programme for school feeding and provision of WASH package in selected schools in the educationally disadvantaged districts.
Since 1995, UNICEF in collaboration with the National Centre for Environmental Health and Water Supply (under the Ministry of Health) and the Ministry of Education and Sports, have developed design manuals for construction of WASH facilities; namely school latrines, dug wells, elevated water tower with electric pumps, rain water jars, etc. In 2003 the school latrine design was modified to include a wall partition separating the entrance ways for boys and girls. A transparent roof sheet was also added to improve lighting. From 2012-2013 further modifications were made to incorporate risk reduction from hazards and facilities for children with disabilities.
To ensure that students wash their hands with soap, UNICEF has designed a low cost hand washing facility which can be assembled at schools and used for daily group hand washing.
The best WASH-in-Schools data is available in the Education Monitoring and Information System (EMIS) of Ministry of Education and Sports. EMIS data is collected on a yearly basis since 2007.
Recent analysis of EMIS data indicates that the WASH in schools coverage was 43% in 2012, for schools listing both a water source and toilet. However, current water coverage data also includes unimproved water sources. Further advocacy with the Ministry of Education and Sports is required for detailed reporting on access to improved water sources in schools.
There is a need for more local evidence for WASH-in-Schools and improved monitoring. As a result of UNICEF’s advocacy efforts, more data on school water and sanitation was included during the recent update of the school census questionnaire form (EMIS). New data gathered for the 2013-2014 academic year will provide a better snapshot of improved access to water and sanitation in schools.
Conditions for WASH-in-schools are much poorer in rural schools than for urban, particularly areas with difficult access.
Government support for WASH-in-Schools is minimal and therefore, WASH-in-Schools initiatives are mainly dependent on external funding.
The sustainability of school WASH facilities is also a challenge with limited resources and capacity for school operation and maintenance, particularly rural schools.