Swachh Schools for Swachh Bharat

15 Oct

“Why is this road so dirty?” I asked, looking at the empty packets swirling about in the brewing dust storm.

“Oh, there is a school along this road, and children eat chips and ice-cream on the way to the school bus and throw the packets everywhere”

“Is the inside of the school equally dirty?” I asked, knowing fully well that the inside would be a bit cleaner than the road. Not because the children were cleaner but because the afternoon shift of cleaners would have swept it up by now.

Maybe part of the problem here is that we always have someone to pick up after us. It is natural to throw things on the ground in a culture where picking it up is someone else’s problem. Even worse – some one else is paid to do that. And that person earns less than the person doing the littering. The hierarchy writes itself – you are superior if you create litter and a mess, you are inferior if you clean up.

This is seen in schools too – a news item about a school principal making students clean the school created much outrage. How can students – those sent to imbibe higher order skills at schools be asked to perform lower order tasks? Did the school not have cleaners? Or in many other places – did they not have lower caste students to do this work? Casteism, sadly does show up in many schools in this form. The news has a steady drip of reports where Dalit students were denied classroom learning and asked to clean the school premises. Again – cleanliness not seen as a higher order virtue but a way of discriminating.

When children litter, it is the most distressing thing ever. I often turn around and ask them – would you like to live in a garbage bin? Because this is what you are creating around you. I am not sure how many would like to live in a garbage bin, but most feel quite sure that the garbage is not going to be their problem at all. To bring swachh Bharat to schools will be a bit of a challenge for schools.

Putting an end to littering will be the easy part, because that can be policed, and children can be bullied or penalised  into ensuring they throw things in dustbins. What is going to be challenging is to ensure that students are mindful of clean toilets, school walls, and even the dust that seems to accumulate in school desks and school windows. A look at most schools and the grimly grey-brown filthy windows makes one’s heart sink. Will schools and students be able to change that? Will they be able to transform schools into shiny,happy, healthy spaces?

Because Swachhta, cleanliness is first about safety. It is about safety from infections, it is about safety from accidents that happen because of litter (ah yes, the old slipping on a banana peel that pretends to be a joke), about safety from the rubble and rubbish that accumulate,  and it is about safety and protection from depressing dirty work environments that do not motivate anyone at all. Swacchh schools are happening schools – with cleanliness leading mindfulness.

What can schools do:

1.     Set up a cleanliness roster, cleanliness monitors and cleanliness committees in schools to empower students to ensure clean, safe environments
2.      Schools that support the swacchh Bharat campaign could adopt areas around their school too – such as the road that the school children had callously littered as they left the school.
3.      Schools could also do CCE projects on understanding how the garbage in their area is treated, and where it goes (Heaven knows that India does not have enough space for all the garbage it generates).
4.     It would be interesting for higher classes to understand the calorific value of garbage among other things and ways to extract value from it. There have been beautiful tabletops that rival granite that have been made from high pressure compacted rubbish among other things. Take Swacchh to the next level and innovate to generate value.
5.     Let younger classes evangelise recycling to ensure less waste and garbage is created
6.       Reward classes for being cleaner than others, make a virtue – a celebration of cleanliness

Swacchh Bharat is a step forward to being treated with respect by the rest of the world, and a step towards mindful living in pleasant and healthy environs. Let schools lead the way – stand for swachh schools that build a swacchh Bharat.



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