Handwashing with soap and educational achievement are closely linked.
Long before children are of school age, inadequate hygiene practices can lead to diarrhea and other infections that contribute to stunting. Stunting impedes a child’s cognitive development, setting students back from their peers even before the first day of school. One of the reasons the Global Handwashing Partnership co-founded Clean, Fed & Nurtured was to explore how an integrated approach might fight stunting.
Handwashing with soap is a foundational component of healthy schools.[i]
Good hygiene practices help ensure children are healthy, so they can attend class and learn. Globally, children miss a cumulative 272 million schooldays each year due to diarrhea, and handwashing with soap has been found to help reduce school absenteeism that is caused by diarrhea, influenza and conjunctivitis by up to 50%. The use of hand sanitizers was found to reduce rhinorrhea, a common symptom of the flu and cold-like illnesses.[ii][iii]
Schools should provide handwashing stations with soap near toilets and near where food is prepared and consumed, to help staff and students practice good handwashing habits. The availability of handwashing stations with soap and water also helps girls manage their menstruation hygienically. When girls miss school during their menstruation due to inadequate hygiene facilities, these absences interrupt their education. This can result in reduced academic performance, delays in academic and social development, and reduced future earning potential. In 2016, UNESCO reported that one in ten girls in sub-Saharan Africa misses school during their menstrual cycle. By some estimates this equates to as much as 20% of a school year.[iv]
According to the SPLASH School Outcome Study published in 2016, schools with WASH programs can expect up to a 50% reduction in absenteeism, when compared to schools without WASH.[v] Learn more about menstrual hygiene management here and celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28 to help reduce the stigma around menstruation.
[i] Pearson J, Mcphedran K. A literature review of the non-health impacts of sanitation. Waterlines, 2008; 27: 48-61.
[ii] Hutton G, Haller L. (2004). Evaluation of the costs and benefits of water and sanitation improvements at the global level. Geneva: World Health Organization.
[iii] Pickering AJ, Davis J, Blum AG, Scalmanini J, Oyier B, Okoth G, Breiman RF, Ram PK. Access to Waterless Hand Sanitizer Improves Student Hand Hygiene Behavior in Primary Schools in Nairobi, Kenya. Am J Trop Med Hyg, 2013; 89(3): 411-18.
[iv] Lusk-Stover O. (2016). Globally, periods are causing girls to be absent from school. Education for Global Development. The World Bank.
[v] Rose L. (2016). Breaking the Taboo: How School WASH Impacts Girls’ Education.