WASH in schools: the media as a change factor



What does WASH stand for? Simply:  Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH).

The importance of WASH in the development of children’s health and life sustainability across the globe cannot be looked at with human and policy insensitivity. WASH initiatives should, therefore, remain critical to any child development settings either within the domestic or formal settings – such as schools, playgrounds, libraries, museums and more. The United Nations recognises this importance.  For instance, according to the WHO/UNICEF JMP report,  ‘schools are places where health is nurtured and  children develop lifelong healthy habits, but not places where children fall sick with infection due to lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene services’.

The report posits that 546 million schoolchildren around the world lack basic drinking water and 539 million schoolchildren don’t have basic toilet. Also, over 800 million schoolchildren lack basic facilities with soap and water to wash their hands. Most of these affected schoolchildren are found in the global context of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) as over half of schoolchildren in Sub-Saharan Africa lack basic drinking water service. There is a global urgency to address and prioritise WASH services in LDCs’ schools in order to achieve a universal WASH coverage by 2030. It is against this global WASH urgency that the service of the media, as a force for social change, is solicited.

The media can affect change:

The media, since the birth of man, has been acting as a mobilisation force in society through its ability of drawing attention to issues affecting human existence. From a change in perspective, how the media’s editorial weaves emotional connection, social action and sense of awareness toward issues confronting society is likely to induce the appropriate action and subsequently, the needed change in direction. That is to say the media, as a social change partner, can play a critical role in promoting WASH initiatives in the society. Unfortunately, the media, sometimes with competing commercial interest in news making, is unable to direct the needed social attention and change effectively as the following study on media coverage of WASH-related news from January to December 2021 in Ghana depicts.

Diagram: WASH Coverage in The Ghanaian Media – 2021: Only 6% For WASH

In an analysis of 2,491 WASH-related news reported by 48 media platforms of Print, TV, Online and Radio, attention allotted to WASH in schools was only 6 percent, Handwashing 2 percent, Drinking Water 23 percent, and 41 percent coverage for Sanitation. Content analysis methodology was used for the analysis with intercoder reliability at 85 percent. This data projections in relation to WHO/UNICEF JMP report, suggest that there is more to be done by the media considering Ghana in the fragile context of the LDCs. It must, however, be said that UNICEF Ghana, in collaboration with government and other advocacy partners, continues to make tremendous impact in the improvement of WASH services among schoolchildren in Ghana and the communities.

Admittedly, the media is faced with competing editorial content driven by profit intent.  However, the media is encouraged to promote WASH services, and especially WASH in schools in their editorial conferences and agenda cuttings. The intent of this study is not to critique the media, but to draw the public and policy-makers’ attention to the media’s role in the promotion of WASH service initiatives. Also, to urge a strong social partnership between the media and UNICEF in the promotion of WASH services.

Similarly, UN agencies should employ a consistent scientific media monitoring approach as a way of measuring the extent of the media’s promotion of UN’s policy action and change. Going forward, the media should be seen as a critical change maker in WASH services. For instance, a new form of media engagement which recognises the media as a dichotomy of profit and social change agency is required by policy-makers.

It is only in these contexts of the media’s social dichotomy profit and advocacy can the media be well appreciated and harnessed as a force for social change and mobilisation.  For that is one of the ways we can galvanise progress toward universal coverage of WASH services in schools by the 2030.

The Author: Messan Mawugbe (PhD) is a strategic communication consultant.

Email: [email protected]

The Meadows, Castle Rock: Colorado.

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