Building School Latrines in India to Increase School Enrollment

UNESCO estimates that there are still 263 million children ages six to 17 years old who do not attend school. Of these children, 23 percent reside in India. One of the contributing factors to low enrollment in India is a lack of sanitation in school. Without school latrines, students are exposed to unconfined waste, which makes them vulnerable to sickness and thereby more likely to miss school. Furthermore, most of the out-of-school children in India, especially girls, leave school during adolescence between the ages of 10 and 16. Girls of this age start to menstruate, which makes them prone to physical and verbal harassment from other students without a safe and private space to clean themselves.

To increase school enrollment, the Indian government launched a nationwide school latrine construction project in 2003. Nearly half of the primary schools in rural areas in India did not have any latrines at that time. The districts determined which schools would receive new latrines based on varying priorities. Some districts prioritized larger schools, while others randomly selected the schools or even chose schools that were closest to the district offices. There was also variation in the choice of latrine type depending on the school’s needs; some schools received unisex latrines while others received separate-sex latrines or latrines for female students only.

To measure the effectiveness of school latrine construction, Professor Anjali Adukia performed a difference-in-difference analysis by comparing the changes in the outcomes of the schools that received new latrines with schools that never received a latrine. The author uses observations from 121,206 primary schools and 17,796 upper-primary schools. Adukia finds that school-latrine construction substantially increases the total student enrollment in primary schools by 12.1 percent (607,000 students) and in upper-primary schools by 7.9 percent (75,000 students). The findings also show that girls benefit more from school latrine construction than boys. The construction increases female enrollment in primary schools by 11.1 percent and in upper-primary schools by 7.1 percent. Given the same conditions, male enrollment increases by 9.7 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively.

The author also observes that the type of latrine constructed matters. For the upper-primary schools, the girls benefit substantially from the sex-specific latrines, but only slightly from the unisex latrines. The separate-sex latrines and girls-only latrines increase female enrollment by 12.1 percent and 15.6 percent in primary schools, and by 9.9 percent and 11.1 percent in upper-primary schools. Meanwhile, unisex latrines increase female enrollment by 9.4 percent in primary schools and only 2.2 percent in upper-primary schools. This finding suggests that, at older ages, privacy and safety matter more for girls.

Additionally, school latrine construction has a positive effect on teachers. The program increases the number of female teachers at school each year by 1.8 percent on average. Having a sex-specific latrine further increases female teacher representation by 2.3 percent. Despite the increase in student and teacher enrollment, the author does not find any significant impact of latrines on student achievement.

Although this study was conducted in India, the findings still apply to other countries. Districts in India have high income variation, which reflects differences in socioeconomic conditions. The author argues that the income difference between the 10th and 90th percentile districts of the sample represents the income difference between the 5th and 25th percentile countries in the world income distribution. Despite this high variation in socioeconomic conditions, the author finds that the estimated impacts are consistent across all Indian districts in the sample, suggesting that the implementation of latrines could positively affect countries of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

This research shows that meeting students’ basic needs could be a way to increase enrollment in education. Furthermore, school latrine infrastructure provides an opportunity to not only increase student enrollment, but also to reduce the gender gap in enrollment, particularly in adolescence. As the government allocates its limited resources to make the largest impact on school enrollment, funding school latrine infrastructure programs should be considered.

Article source: Adukia, Anjali. “Sanitation and Education.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 9(2) (2017): 23-59.

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Nurzanty Khadijah

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