Schools that promote a healthy learning environment for pupils ensure that there is access to water and sanitation facilities and that teachers engage pupils frequently on discussions about health. In these schools the number of children who washed hands frequently increased from six percent to over 80 percent in a period of 10 months.
Researchers from the Nairobi-based African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) worked with 22 primary schools in two informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya under an initiative dubbed Health Promoting Schools (HPS). HPS is a World Health Organization (WHO) initiative that takes a holistic approach in integrating healthy behaviours into all aspects of school life.
The researchers divided the schools into two, one acted as the control group and the other as the intervention.
In the latter, the researchers helped the schools develop health policies, come up with health coordinators and health committees comprising of teacher, students and parents.
Thereafter, they trained teachers on health education, leadership, hygiene and life skills. In addition, they improved pupil’s water access by introducing water tanks, providing water points and liquid soap.
And with the help of teachers, they wrote health messages at places where pupils can read them easily. One such a message on a wall of a classroom at a school read, “Wash your hands for better living.”
According to the researchers, in schools that worked as control groups, they observed little or no change in health promoting activities like hand washing, which helps prevent communicable diseases particularly in school settings.
On the other hand, in the intervention schools, children, for instance, valued hand washing as an important health practice.
Lead researcher Osnat Keidar noted that pupils who study in schools that, for instance, provide water and soap are more likely to wash hands than those in schools that do not have the facilities.
The students are less likely to suffer from respiratory infections and stomach related problems, which arise because of poor hygiene.
“Sanitation interventions help students to have time to focus on their studies. Many of them will also not absent from school because they have kept diseases at bay,” Osnat said.
During the study, they observed that girls are more likely to observe hygiene and other health practices than boys.
“This is because of the way girls are socialized as opposed to boys. It, therefore, makes it easier for them to practice hygiene especially when schools have adopted health programs,” she said.
Osnat said that the more teachers are engaged in promoting health activities in schools, the more students are likely to practice hygiene thus improving the learning environment and consequently their performance.
The researchers advised that schools should integrate health activities in both their curricular and extra-curricular activities.
“Schools can mainstream skill-based health education focusing on hygiene and life skills into the curriculum and extra-curricular activities using story books, drama, poems, song and health clubs, “ they said.
Judy Maina, a teacher at Super Action Center in Korogocho slum, Nairobi, which participated in the research said pupils are now conscious about hygiene than they were before.
“The students now mind the water they drink to avoid diseases.
“They clean the filters to remove dust for them to always have clean water. They clean them after every three days using boiled water and disinfectants,” she said.
She added that the students have also learned other purification processes like using chlorine and boiling to make water clean.
They also wash hands after visiting the toilet or before eating.
Read more about the study in these two APHRC policy briefs
Keidar, O. and Mwangi, A. (2010). Creating healthy schools: implementing a Health Promoting Schools initiative in Nairobi’s informal settlements. APHRC policy brief no. 23. Download full brief
Keidar, O. and Mwangi, A. (2010). Assessing the impact of the Health Promoting Schools initiative in Nairobi’s informal settlements. APHRC policy brief no. 24. Download full brief
Source: Bedah Mengo, Coastweek Kenya, 24-30 Jun 2011