Skip to main content

Published on: 22/06/2015

Observation of toilet use. The toilet on the right is not being used because it does not offer privacy there is no water available and therefore does not meet the “access” or the “use” criteria

Would you put your child in a school where there is one toilet for 130 students? What if the school toilets would need major repairs? How would you feel if your teenage girl had to attend a school where toilets are shared with boys and there is no water or facilities for menstrual hygiene management? The reality is that in most low and middle income countries this type of information is not known by the national agencies and NGOs that try to improve the situation making it difficult to target interventions that improve water supply and sanitation in schools.

What is a good WASH service in schools?

A study conducted in 2013 by BRAC WASH and IRC in 117 schools from different regions in Bangladesh tried to find an answer to the following question: How much does it cost to provide school children with a basic level of water and sanitation related services?

The Bangladesh basic standard for schools is to provide one toilet per 50 students. The BRAC WASH and IRC teams have decided that a basic level of service in schools, that is sustainable, needs to include at a minimum:

  • The number of students per latrine, with separation for boys and girls
  • The safe use of latrines, with water and soap available for hand washing
  • The cleanliness of the latrines and availability of products for regular maintenance
  • The availability of drinking water and safety
  • Faecal waste and wastewater are safely disposed
  • Availability of pads for emergencies and facilities for disposal of used napkins

Few schools achieve a good score on all criteria

The criteria have been scored in a four-level service “ladder”: from “no service”, to “sub-standard”, to “basic” and finally “improved”, depending on their status. Achieving a basic level is considered a good benchmark.

The methodology and criteria will need to be improved in further studies. With the present choice of indicators, the study found that fulfilling all the six criteria is a challenge. From the 117 schools only 28 schools (24%) have scored “basic” on all the six criteria. 60% had at least one criterion in the “no service” category and the remaining 16% had at least one criterion under sub-standard. There was no school which has scored “improved” on all the criteria.

This study demonstrates and tests some of the criteria and indicators that can be used to measure service levels in schools. In the post-Millennium Development Goals discussions it has been recognised that future global water, sanitation and hygiene targets must extend beyond household level and include a wide range of settings including schools, workplaces, markets, transit hubs, health centres, etc. Schools and health centres are at the top of the priority list because of the potential health benefits to a large number of children and adults. Specifically, handwashing and menstrual hygiene management are considered to be universal priorities to be reached by 2030 so that girls are given the same opportunities and access to education as boys.

Lower investments result in worse services

The study found that schools that had lower spending on construction and on maintenance are providing a lower level of service to their students. In only 25% of the schools the investments made have led to a basic service level. In the remaining 75%, the investments have failed to achieve their “good intentions”.

The major aspects that require attention to improve service levels in the schools in the sample are the number of (separate) toilets for girls and boys, how the waste from the toilets is being disposed of and testing the quality of the water being provided to the students. BRAC WASH intends to find strategies to increase the collaboration with the Government and other funding agencies to expand the programme and intervention approach further, using the cost benchmarks derived from the study.

Cost benchmarks for WASH in schools

If only the schools that have achieved a basic service level are taken into consideration, benchmark costs can be derived for construction and for annual maintenance and follow up (we call it direct support in WASHCost terminology).

This analysis indicates that at least Taka 814 per student (US$ 10) needs to be spent on construction for both water and sanitation facilities in schools including disposal of faecal sludge and menstrual hygiene management.

Additionally, on an annual basis to  achieve a basic service level, a school needs to spend at least Taka 108 per student (US$ 1.40) on all recurrent costs, of which the continuous direct support to hygiene promotion activities and training of students and teacher brigades is absolutely critical to ensure sustainability of facilities and behaviours.

The complete methodology used in the study can be found in the report that IRC produced with the BRAC WASH team: Snehalatha M., Fonseca C., Rahman, Uddin R, M., Ahmed M. and Joy Sharif A., 2015. School WASH programmes in Bangladesh: how much does it cost? – Applying the life-cycle costs approach in selected upazilas. The Hague: IRC and Dhaka: BRAC.



At IRC we have strong opinions and we value honest and frank discussion, so you won't be surprised to hear that not all the opinions on this site represent our official policy.

Back to
the top