Toilet cleaning sessions for students will pay off

MODERN gadgetry including handphones, digital video cameras and CCTVs are making us impassioned observers and commentators as image upon image appears before our eyes.

As concerned members of society we are quick to sympathise and even empathise with the people we see suffering from personal and societal abuses by their "lawless" and "clueless" compatriots.

The recent brutal handling of an infant by a male staff in a foreign country was condemned by those who had the heart to watch a baby being slapped around like a dead fish. If this had happened in a Malaysian hospital, some of us would have called for the public lynching of the predator animal.

At home, the CCTV recording of a woman being hit and kicked around by a burly husband in a lift watched by her two young children, drew a public outcry which led to a police report and the man's arrest. We are now disgusted that the brute has the audacity to smile into the camera as he is led to court.

Just last week, the sneaked report of a CCTV installed in a school toilet drew public flak and condemnation of the school management and PTA who "wisely" made the decision in order to deter school vandalism. The education department was not spared brickbats for "foolishly" approving the application.

The general objection is that toilets are private places, even sacred, where the individual alone is allowed liberties. No one else is privy to a person's bodily functions, let alone a camera which captures toilet actions for posterity.

Developments in the UK, however, show that the new Malaysian obsession with privacy may prove to be detrimental to public security as this excerpt shows: "UK schools so unsafe that surveillance needed in the most private spaces? Since the 1990s, the UK's Home Office has spent 78 per cent of its crime prevention budget on CCTV installations, and schools have likewise invested significant resources in their own surveillance equipment."

In Malaysia, now that the CCTV culprits have been witch-hunted and reprimanded, we should look at the issue of school toilets squarely in the face. School toilets are private YES, but not the sacred area it is made out to be. It is not a taboo area that cannot be literally and metaphorically touched but should be seen as a utility area that the school community owns and needs to look after.

Granted schools employ cleaners to clean up after schoolchildren, but would it not be wonderfully nurturing if we get the children involved? Would this not be a hands-on way of teaching the young that ownership comes with responsibility?

As part of their character-building and ethic-instilling roles, many dedicated teachers are now organising community work such as helping the orphans and elderly, doing odd jobs or "gotong-royong" in the neighbourhood, etc. Why not involve students in looking after their school toilets?

Classes can take turns to spruce up the toilets. This can be done with proper time-tabling. And at assembly every week, incentives can be announced. There can be a prize for the class that is judged to be the best in this community effort and stars can be given to the runners-up.

When respect for toilets is nurtured and the particular skill of cleaning toilets is learnt from young, children will grow up with the right attitude and behaviour towards toilet use. Malaysian schools can then look forward to a cleaner future with toilet-trained students.

In this respect, the Japanese who are known for being sticklers for cleanliness and politeness in their daily lives, train children to clean their school toilets.

In the outer community, some of us have had horrendous experiences of Malaysian public toilets, infamous for their stench and water-ridden seats and floors. It does not help to explain that we are a water culture where we toilet clean ourselves and perform spiritual cleansing with water.

For instance, besides dealing with their bodily functions, Muslims pray five times a day and take ablution each time – which explains why the toilets in government offices and agencies are always wet. Added to this are the dirty sinks as office staff wash their oily plates of rice and curry, leaving bits of food to clog the outlet designed for running water.

Yes – Malaysians still have a lot to learn and unlearn as they strive to become a technologically advanced nation by 2020. Woe betide us if we own the most sophisticated technology and gadgetry, have superior mental capacities which have been nurtured by a transformed education system – yet fail badly in our toilet skills.

The writer keenly follows developments in politics, culture and education. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com