New Delhi: Rukiya Khatun, 16, often skips breakfast before going to school, and feels tired and sleepy in the classroom, missing out on important lessons. The reason: lack of clean toilets at her school. Khatun is not alone. Scores of her schoolmates prefer to skip breakfast or a meal during recreation period to avoid having to use the toilet.
Sanitation is a key problem for these girls. Those “who don’t know how to manage it”, like her sister, miss out on regular schooling, says Khatun.
But unlike her sister, Khatun is more persistent in pursuing education. “I don’t want to drop out. My sister was a little less motivated as a student and problems in school prompted her to drop out,” says Khatun, a Class XI student in Seemapuri, in north-east Delhi.
Archana Yadav, 17, a Class XII student in the same locality, goes a step further and suggests that if schools can provide clean toilets, more girls will be able to complete their schooling. “Whenever we complain, there is a staple answer: it will improve,” says Yadav, whose father is dead and her mother provides for the family as a daily-wager.
“Poor people like us cannot afford the fees at a private school. And the situation in government schools is really bad, often forcing girls to skip classes or drop out,” says Yadav. Nearly 76% of India’s schools are operated by the government, but nearly half these schools don’t have usable toilet facilities for girl students. The situation is relatively better in private schools.
Despite the Right to Education (RTE) Act coming into force on 1 April 2010, the situation has not improved much.
More than six decades after independence, half our citizens—over 600 million Indians—simply do not have access to a toilet either at home or in their communities, Census 2011 found.
According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2013, published by education non-profit Pratham, the percentage of usable toilets for girls has increased from 32.9% in 2010 to 53.3% in 2013.
But 47% schools in the country still do not have separate toilets for girls, increasing their chances of dropping out or facing regular difficulties.
“If the government wants to promote girl education, they have to improve basic facilities for girls in schools,” says Delhi-based Nazma Parveen, whose daughter completed Class XII from a government school.
Three years ago, Parveen shifted her daughter from a private school to a government school for financial reasons. Ever since, she says, her daughter has been reluctant to attend school and almost every day Parveen has to motivate her about the benefits of education.
“It’s aspiration, not the facilities available, that is taking children to schools,” she says, pointing to a bigger shift India is observing and what experts refer to as “despite government not because of government”.