Happy International Literacy Day! The day aims to highlight the importance of literacy in a world where one in five adults is illiterate, two thirds of these are women, and there are over 60 million children who don’t go to school.
UNESCO says that literacy is ‘essential for eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, curbing population growth, achieving gender equality and ensuring sustainable development, peace and democracy.’
There’s a strong connection both between illiteracy and poverty. The CIA Factbook and national data show the lowest literacy rates are in Burkina Faso (21.8%), South Sudan (27%), Mali (27.7%) and Afghanistan (28.1%). For women it’s lower, with rates of 15.2%, 16%, 19.8%, and 12.6%, respectively.
What’s water got to do with it?
Half of the world’s schools lack access to safe water and sanitation. The International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth argues that adequate provision of water and sanitation is one of the key factors in giving pupils a proper education. Here’s how:
- Facilities to wash hands after using the toilets prevents diarrhoea, which reduces the number of children off sick;
- Children (particularly girls) don’t have to miss school to collect water (a study from the World Bank suggested that a 15 minute reduction in water collection time can increase the proportion of girls attending school by 8-12%);
- Girls do not have to miss school when on their periods;
- Accessible toilets increase the attendance of disabled students, who are less likely to attend school;
- Teaching children about hygiene makes them hygiene ambassadors in their households;
- Harvesting rainwater reduces budget constraints on schools;
- Schools are often the focal point of a community’s water supply so facilities can benefit the whole community.
Once the needs for clean water are met, education can become a priority in children’s lives. Investing in water and sanitation would result 272 million more days of school attendance worldwide.
Educated children have the potential to lift their communities out of poverty. The populations of developing countries are young – in Africa, one in three people is between 10 and 24 years old. If this generation is literate, there will be a huge boost to literacy worldwide. Literate parents are more likely to send their children to school – creating years of positive results.
Literate women tend to have children at a later age, resulting in fewer and healthier children. A 1% rise in female literacy rates is 3 times more likely to reduce child mortality than a 1% increase in the number of doctors. In fact, four to six years of female education leads to a 20% drop in infant mortality.
Just a Drop’s work
Just a Drop has conducted a lot of work in schools – here are a few examples:
Tabata Jica Primary School, Tanzania
Tabata Jica School is in an area with chronic water shortages. Just a Drop installed a borehole and electric pump in 2012, to give the school a reliable source of water. Janeth Elias Buza, Head Girl, said, “I used to feel for our students whenever they would be scorned – especially the girls – by the neighbouring school whenever we went to request water from them. Now they will be no more scorning since we also have water source of our own.”
Monde Primary School, Uganda
The children had to walk far to reach drinking water, and use a pit latrine without disabled access, gender-sensitive toilets, or privacy. Just a Drop installed a rainwater harvesting tank and toilets, and conducted hygiene training for staff and students. Since then, the number of children who have had to visit a health centre has dropped from 300 to 67 a month. Steven Tendere, Head Boy, said, “The well is very far from the school and we would get tired and sleep in the class after we had collected water. These days we do not sleep in the class because we get water from the tank nearby.”
When Haiti was struck by an earthquake in 2010, Just a Drop launched the ‘Just Help Haiti’ appeal to help reconstruct damaged schools. Students at Demichel School had to use water from the polluted local river or purchase expensive water from local kiosks. Just a Drop built a tank to capture rainwater, a solar pump, and new latrines, replaced the roof structure and gutters, and implemented a hygiene education programme.
If your school would like to support Just a Drop, please email email@example.com or visit our schools page, by clicking here.