Students in some of the Corporation schools in the city are in a fix. They cannot use the toilet when they need to, due to lack of hygiene and poor maintenance.

The stench near the primary block in the Corporation-run school in Saidapet was unbearable. Going past the toilet block to get to the headmistress’ office is a very difficult task. But hundreds of children have little choice.

With the entire area outside the toilet wet with water leaking from one of the pipes, the space clearly flouts even the basic norms of hygiene. “I don’t use the toilet everyday, but today, I had to,” said a class VI student.

The toilets at another school in West Mambalam were not usable for weeks together because of a sewage block. “I complained to the engineer in the Works Department [of the Corporation] several times, but he kept telling us that they did not have funds,” said the headmaster.

Later, thanks to a school function that the Mayor was to participate in, the Works Department official was forced to attend to the issue, fearing that the students might complain to the Mayor.

“In the case of government schools some delay is understandable since they have to coordinate with the Public Works Department. But in the case of Corporation schools, why should action be delayed when the civic body has a Works Department to look at these matters?” he asked.

Vasantha Balakrishnan, former headmistress, Presidency Government Girls Higher Secondary School, said that about five years ago, the toilets in many government and local body schools were in very bad condition. “However, things have improved now. In addition to the School Education Department’s efforts, organisations such as the Rotary and Lions Clubs have contributed significantly.”

Emphasising the need for proper toilet facilities, she said that school heads should push for adequate facilities. “Girls, particularly those who have reached puberty, cannot manage otherwise.”

Agreeing with her, the head of a girls’ school in Central Chennai said some girls even dropped out of school because of this.

“Sometimes, even our staff toilets are pathetic. We know the difficulty faced by students, but we are helpless.” she said, adding that teachers put in their own money to buy disinfectants.

“I almost never use the toilet at school. If I go in, I’ll feel nauseous,” said a high school girl of the school.

Health issues

The habit of refraining from using the toilets could have serious medical implications, according to Sarada Suresh, Director, Institute of Child Health.

“We do hear of many children not using the toilets in school. They also end up drinking less water. But this could cause formation of stones in the kidney,” she said, referring to the increasing number of cases of children with small stones in the kidney.

“Also girls having their periods should change their napkins often. They might get reproductive track infections due to poor hygiene. In fact, lack of hygiene can lead to host of skin and other infections, too,” she said.

When contacted, Mayor M. Subramanian said: “We are particular about the infrastructure in schools. If students, teachers or heads bring up specific issues, we will certainly attend to them immediately.”

Corporation Commissioner Rajesh Lakhoni said: “We have outsourced labour for cleaning and maintenance now. School heads should supervise their work. We are also taking up regular inspections.”

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Meera SrinivasanJune 28, 2012