Catch them young

ARTY EXPRESSIONS: Students paint a wall graffiti to promote cleanliness.

ARTY EXPRESSIONS: Students paint a wall graffiti to promote cleanliness.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Why do institutions fail to teach students to be agents of change?

One of the unspoken challenges of travelling is finding a functional and hygienic place to answer nature’s call! On a trip into the interior parts of Tamil Nadu, our group of students and teachers were faced with this dilemma. Just like an oasis in the middle of a desert, we stumbled upon a school in the local village, which stood out. Immaculately painted, the walls engraved with inspiring words, greeted us. We walked in and made our request to the headmaster who graciously allowed us to use the facilities. The bathrooms were spotless, and within the small space, they had designed it with paintings by the children. In one’s own experience of working in various settings, one found that very rarely had a bathroom been given so much attention.

Collective responsibility

Over tea and samosas, we had an interesting conversation with the headmaster. As part of his own agenda, he had placed a premium value on creating surroundings that were conducive to learning. The students were organised into groups to help keep their campus clean and this gave them a sense of ownership and pride in collective responsibility. He felt that education went beyond literacy and that these students would be agents of change in their own house. He spoke with pride of visiting a former student’s home, who was now running a creche in her house. Though coming from a background where girls were confined to domesticity, she had unleashed her potential, thanks to the influence of the school! With a chuckle, he added, “The bathroom, madam, was spotless, just like my school”!

In the years of being associated with schools, one observes that this basic facility is not given the importance it deserves. I know students who have developed urinary infections from not visiting the restroom for extended hours, due to the unsanitary conditions.

The focus on finishing portions and scoring percentages, leads to a blinkered vision. There is no sense of collective responsibility and no onus on the student or staff member to keep the restrooms clean. This is almost never given any importance in school meetings and one accepts an unclean restroom as the status quo.

The fundamental process of change needs to start from awareness. There are many constructive ways to address the issue. A multi-pronged approach of cleanliness campaigns, teaching students to use the facilities in a hygienic manner, giving the helpers who clean the facilities a sense of respect and more remuneration will definitely have a domino effect. The school systems in Japan are known to involve students in cleaning their own restrooms. It has had a positive effect at many levels, reinforcing the idea that change begins with the smallest of our actions.

The Village headmaster had ignited change, and it had started with a single thought. Similarly, if parents, students and teachers collectively see this as a priority and a shared responsibility, change is inevitable. It is time we talked about this hidden issue that, if addressed constructively, need not raise a stink!

The author has worked as a special educator in various settings. Share your thoughts and ideas at:

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 11:38:26 PM |

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