What Schools in the Philippines Need: Toilets and Safe Drinking Water

It is important that all members of a society are functionally literate. UNESCO defines the following: "A person is functionally literate who can engage in all those activities in which literacy is required for effective functioning of his group and community and also for enabling him to continue to use reading, writing and calculation for his own and the community’s development.". Functional literacy is one of the key targets of  the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. Achieving this goal is obviously an objective of basic education. Unfortunately, while we focus so much on reading, writing and mathematics, we might just be missing non-academic factors that in fact strongly correlate with functional literacy. Examining data from 2008, researchers find that in the Philippines that within the region of Luzon, functional illiteracy of school-aged children correlates with sources of drinking water and type of toilet facility.  After spending a lot of time, effort and money on a new curriculum, the Philippines still finds in 2016 that thousands of schools still lack safe drinking water and toilet facilities.

Above copied from the Inquirer

And in a paper recently published in the journal Tropical Medicine and Health, a survey of six schools in Manila that do have toilet facilities shows that these facilities do not pass all requirements:

Table 4
Results of toilet observation
Functional flush
Door is intact
Functional lock
Toilet interior is not visible from outside
Availability of sanitary bin
Floor has no litters
Floor is not wet
Wall is clean and no scribbles
Toilet seat and bowl are clean
Window is available
No objectionable smell
Artificial light is functional
Bathroom sinks are present
Taps are functional
✓means okay/yes/available

Half of these toilets do not even have running water.

The functional illiteracy rate of school-aged children is substantial in all regions of the Philippines as shown in the following figure:

Above copied from
Owada, K.; Nielsen, M.; Lau, C.L.; Yakob, L.; Clements, A.C.; Leonardo, L.; Soares Magalhães, R.J. Determinants of Spatial Heterogeneity of Functional Illiteracy among School-Aged Children in the Philippines: An Ecological Study. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019, 16, 137.

We can design and change the curriculum in so many ways but without addressing the basic needs of students, we will not solve the problems plaguing Philippine basic education.