arrow_backEmergency WASH

E.6 Hygiene Promotion in Schools

Many children spend most of the day at school, so the school can represent a hygiene risk (if hygiene is poor) and an opportunity to promote improved hygiene practices. Children may also be influential in promoting hygiene at home with their siblings and parents. If there is no menstrual hygiene provision, adolescent girls often miss school during menstruation.

Working with children in schools can draw on numerous well-defined approaches such as School Health Clubs F.1, Child-To-Child T.29, School Led Total Sanitation F.2, Three Star Approach F.11, Fit for School F.10, Toilets Making the Grade F.12 and Blue Schools F.8 and others such as WASH Friendly Schools. Some approaches can be combined and most draw on similar principles of active engagement. 

A WASH-Friendly School is one where everyone - children, teachers and the wider school community - carry out three essential practices to secure better health (1) Wash hands with soap regularly at critical times - after using the latrine or cleaning a small child and before touching food or eating, (2) Always use a latrine – no open defecation and (3) Drink safe water that has been collected, treated, stored and retrieved correctly.

A School Health Club F.1 is a voluntary club formed and managed by pupils and teachers to promote good health practices and behaviour change in the school and the surrounding communities. It typically comprises 20-35 pupils and 1-2 teachers. The club is often headed by a School Health Committee, often part of the School Management Committee.

The Child-to-Child approach aims to promote the use of interactive educational activities focusing on health and wellbeing and to move away from didactic instruction. The approach can be used with children in both school and the community. It recognises that in many countries children are partly responsible for caring for their younger siblings and can therefore influence their siblings’ hygiene practices as well as those of their peers T.29 and even their parents. 

School-Led Total Sanitation applies Community-Led Total Sanitation F.2 principles and methods to schools. 

The Three Star Approach (TSA, F.11) is a pathway for schools to promote more effective hygiene and to meet national WASH standards by defining benchmarks and setting incentives for reaching them. Fit for School (FIT, F.10) is an approach that supports education ministries to apply school-based management to national WASH in schools programmes. Both the TSA and FIT approaches are more suitable for longer-term contexts but may exist already.  

Toilets Making the Grade (TMG, F.12) is a school contest framework aiming at triggering and enabling school actors to improve their school’s sanitation and hygiene situation. Blue Schools F.8 focuses on both health and environmental issues.

Many of the principles for working with children E.4 apply to work in schools. All interventions should be planned in collaboration and coordination with the key stakeholders: schoolchildren, teachers, education authorities and parents, or at the very least should include a plan for engagement with these stakeholders P.9.

In an emergency context, education may have been severely disrupted. Schools may be damaged, destroyed or occupied by people displaced from their homes. However, makeshift schools may have reopened in some locations and it is important to identify these.

Children with disabilities are not always sent to school and, if they are, they may be excluded from participation in HP activities. It is important to include them and their caregivers where appropriate in any HP intervention in schools.

Process & Good Practice

  • Discuss with key stakeholders (school heads, education department, UNICEF and other agencies) to establish what work has already been done and what support is most appropriate. Provide adequate training on HP methodologies.

  • Draw up a strategic plan in collaboration with others rather than plan isolated activities in one location P.9.

  • Locate and work with teachers who are teaching in makeshift schools even when their schools have been destroyed. 

  • Consider how the whole school (including children with disabilities) can be involved, including school hygiene club members or small groups.

  • Include parents and others in the community so that opportunities are taken to influence the broader community.

  • Identify pupils in school clubs who already show an interest in hygiene and are good at motivating others T.22. Aim to make any group inclusive of children with disabilities and from minority groups.

  • Train teachers or older pupils to train others using interactive rather than didactic methods (where possible).

  • Enable participants to identify their own solutions to the specific WASH problems they face in their school, rather than impose strategies upon them that may not work effectively.

  • Design interventions for children of different ages and ensure that information is relevant for different age groups.

  • Include menstrual hygiene management in the design of WASH facilities and hygiene activities P.7, ensuring support for those with disabilities.

  • Encourage pupils to hold sessions and exhibitions in schools and communities to promote hygienic practices through:

    • Songs and Stories T.47, poems, debates, Role Plays T.41, Drama T.6, Games T.15 and Competitions T.8
    • Planning solutions and the way forward at the end of each regular meeting
    • Conducting a baseline of the school water, sanitation and hygiene practices and disseminating the results
    • Recording and sharing progress
    • Providing out-reach to children within and outside school
    • Pairing the children for mentorship by older pupils T.29
    • Writing notice board news or articles on water, sanitation and hygiene
    • Conducting health parades T.11
    • Holding reproductive health talks with senior female or male teachers together with club members
    • Nominating star pupils or classes each term T.40.
  • Discuss and debate negative perceptions about hygiene with school stakeholders to influence the way it is viewed. For example, in some schools cleaning of toilets is used as a punishment or may be assigned only to girls. 

  • Use a monitoring framework to track progress and encourage participants to be involved in designing and using it. Participatory monitoring is vital for encouraging effectiveness and sustainability M.5

  • Ensure that the children are involved in establishing a feedback system on school community WASH activities and facilities for schoolchildren.

  • Recognise and reward achievements in the form of certificates or incentives; they can be powerful motivators T.40



To promote improved hygiene within the school and surrounding community and support the appropriate use and maintenance of school WASH facilities.


  • Children can be catalysts in their environment and may be more receptive to behaviour change interventions carried out by other children. They can also influence other school children as well as their siblings and parents at home. 

  • Hygiene promotion (HP) should be made as sustainable as possible by involving key stakeholders such as school children of different ages (including those with disabilities), teachers, education authorities and parents. All schools should have disability-accessible WASH facilities and include children with disabilities in HP activities.

  • Consider how to overcome common gender pitfalls such as girls always being assigned to clean toilets or boys not being involved in education sessions relating to puberty and menstruation.

  • Avoid one-off activities, that ‘use’ school children as passive actors rather than active participants in promoting hygiene; plan the intervention strategically.


Guidance and example picture sets for use in emergencies

Sahin, M. (2011): Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for School Children in Emergencies. A Guidebook for Teachers, UNICEF

Collection of resources and case studies about WASH in Schools

IRC (undated): WASH in Schools Website

Wendland, C., Rieck, C. et al. (2014): Making WASH in Schools more Sustainable. Case Stories from SuSanA Partners, SuSanA

Panesar, A., Roach, E. et al. (2015): Making WASH in Schools more Sustainable (Volume II). Case Stories from SuSanA partners