No more pit latrines in schools
Peeping Tom
Kaieteur News
December 7, 2006

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I do not know whether today I can endure being in a school toilet for ten minutes. I do not know the state of washrooms in our schools today.

What I do know is that, in my time at school, which was some time ago, going into a washroom of a school any school was no pleasant experience. The girls' toilets may have been in better shape, but all the boys' toilets in all the schools that I attended were literally s...houses.

They were stink, the smell of stale urine was overpowering, and the floors and bowls were lined with human excrement. One of the reasons why persons of my generation are such good divers is because of the experience of having to use toilets at our schools; in order to survive until you were finished relieving yourself in a school toilet, you had to learn to hold your breath for long periods.

I can assure you that, of my generation, I was not the exception. All the other persons I have spoken to confirm that school toilets were not generally clean or well kept in their time at school.

Perhaps things have changed. Perhaps washrooms and other sanitary facilities are now extremely welcoming and hygienic. Perhaps students today can go into a washroom, sit down on a toilet seat and study a whole chapter from a textbook. Perhaps toilets are much improved from what they were in the past.

More importantly, perhaps parents have a right to demand better sanitary blocs at schools. Our children and grandchildren deserve to be able to go into a washroom at school and not have to hold their breaths. They deserve a much better experience than that of the Peeper and those of his generation.

I am appalled that currently there can still be schools with pit latrines. No school should be certified as fit for human occupancy if it contains pit latrines. Not in the year 2006, that is totally unacceptable!

What is, however, also very unacceptable is this growing trend of parents barring up schools. This is vandalism, and should not be tolerated. When this happens, the security personnel of the school in question should be brought to account, and those guilty of restricting access to the school should be arrested, charged, and placed before the courts.

Teachers, too, simply cannot down tools because of a simple obstruction. Their duty is to have the encumbrance removed and to get on with their jobs, for which they are being paid.

There are legitimate ways to protest poor conditions at schools, and it should not involve barring up the doors and entrances. Parents and teachers alike have a right to protest poor conditions, but this should not involve forcibly locking out others. I have repeatedly made the point that in pursuing our rights we should not trample on the rights of others.

There are civilized ways of doing things, and instead of locking people out, parents should organise themselves to make effective representation; and where this does not yield satisfactory benefits, to take other forms of peaceful and respectful protest action.

We are setting a bad example and children learn from what they see when we engage inimical actions to bring attention to a problem. It does not set a good example for students to feel that the only way they can have improvements in their school surroundings is for someone to take a piece of wood and barricade the entrance to a school. What message are we sending to our school children? What values are we inculcating in them when we do these things?

Maintaining hygienic sanitary blocs in schools, judging from incidents over the past few years, is a national problem. The problem is one of maintenance. While the government will find ready external assistance to build, repair, and renovate schools in the country, what is missing from the educational system is a sound maintenance programme for the upkeep of schools.

I would hazard an opinion to say that the government is challenged to ensure proper maintenance of schools in the country. Therefore, a school is built today, and fifteen years from now the entire school has to be broken down and be rebuilt, simply because of the lack of routine and general maintenance. It is a problem not confined to schools alone. The lack of maintenance is a national problem.

I think that parents must be prepared to assist in the maintenance of schools. Not only would it be a fitting contribution towards the education of their children, but also I believe that greater value for money in the upkeep of schools would obtain if this responsibility were devolved to school boards and parent- teachers' bodies.

The Ministries and Regional Educational Authorities simply cannot be relied upon to maintain schools. Even if the money was there to do the job, school boards and parent- teachers' associations would better administer it.

I therefore call on the Ministry of Education to begin two initiatives, one commencing in 2007 and the other in 2008. I would urge them that, for 2007, all schools in the country should be required to prepare a budget for ensuring proper sanitary blocs. This must go beyond merely employing a few cleaners. There must be proper cleaners and equipment to do the job, and some set standards that must be maintained.

Each school should be asked to prepare this budget in collaboration with the school board, where applicable, and with the direct involvement of parent-teacher associations. The boards and the PTA should be asked to fund this requirement, as part of their contribution to the education of their children.

It is not too much to ask. If parents desire better sanitary blocs, they should be willing to make a financial contribution towards the upkeep of these blocs. The school boards, PTAs and alumni associations should be directly responsible for the condition of the sanitary blocs.

The second initiative should commence in 2008 and should involve having a routine maintenance budget for the upkeep of every school building. This, of course, has to be funded by the Ministry of Finance, but again the work done should devolve to school boards and PTAs.

We have, in Guyana , to begin to find permanent solutions to problems, rather than having to revisit the same problem year after year. I believe that as long as we involve parents in the decision-making process, they will be willing to contribute so that their children can benefit; and through this involvement, a permanent model can emerge that would ensure the upkeep of schools and related facilities throughout the country.

So let us begin with the issue that is causing the most controversy presently: the state of the toilets in our schools. Let us hand over the responsibility to the parents, teachers, and old students' associations, so that instead of barricading school doors, a permanent solution can be found.