A pleasant environment contributes to a peaceful mind as well as success in education. A stress-free mind for students is facilitated by a pleasant school environment created by the students by cleaning the school environment before the commencement of the school day. That was the focus of the project reported in this paper. The school where I was first appointed as a teacher is located in a rural area in the Hatton Education Zone in the Nuwara Eliya District of Sri Lanka with 126 students including 60 primary students and 66 secondary students, and a staff of 21 teachers and one office assistant (Figure 1; Slide #2). The educational needs of the students living in the area are met by our school. Most of the school staff comes from Kandy and Gampola with the first bus arriving at the school around 7:40 am. Though the students who live close to the school reach school earlier, they start cleaning the school, under the direction of the teachers who arrive at school around 7:40. The school does not have a non-academic staff to clean the school. Prior to the project, students did not have the self-motivation to clean the school and surroundings, and they were very reluctant to clean up under the pressure of the principal and the teaching staff. In this unfavorable situation, it was not possible to start school on time. Thus, the action research was started with the objectives of inculcating positive attitudes in the students regarding the school environment which would in turn lead to a self-motivation to clean the school premises and thus contribute to creating an effective learning and teaching environment.
Our school, which is a second-class school according to the classification of schools in Sri Lanka, is located among the fantastic beauties of nature in the Hatton education zone, Nuwara Eliya district. The school provides education to children from Grade one to thirteen, and co-curricular as well as extra-curricular activities are carried out. Many activities such as educational tours, exhibitions, various concerts, and student parliament are conducted in the school; learning and teaching activities are well organized and maintained in order to enhance the achievement level of the students. At the end of the year, students are evaluated according to their level of achievement (Figure 2; Slide #3). In my view as a teacher, self-motivation is necessary for an individual to perform a particular task, and when the task is done willingly, it is more successful. As I saw it, a well-planned programme was required in order to change the existing negative attitudes of the students regarding cleaning the school and the surroundings. My focus was on finding out the reasons for not keeping the environment clean and working out solutions and making arrangements to maintain it continuously. Most children live around the school and it only takes them as little as 10 minutes to get to school. Many children came to school early but were not interested in cleaning the school. Thus, the action research was started with the objective of inculcating self-motivation in students to keep the school and surroundings clean and then to continue the initiative without the interference of the principal and the teachers.
Research Goal, Method, and Outcome
Background and Research Objectives
A pleasant environment contributes to a peaceful mind and in turn contributes to an effective learning and teaching environment. The aim of education is to produce an integrated personality for students who then contribute to the society through their knowledge, skills and attitudes. Integrated personality is the result of good attitudes which in turn contributes to the healthy development of the society including schools (Kodituwakku et al., 2006). For the present project it was necessary to prepare a student-friendly programme for cleaning the school and the surroundings in order to achieve a change in the attitudes of students towards their learning environment. It was obvious that a programme with orders and punishments would not be effective in securing the active participation of the students. Thus the aim of the action research was to create self-motivation in students regarding keeping the school and the surroundings clean.
The objectives of the action research were: (1) To find out the reasons for not cleaning the school environment, (2) To identify the problems that arise in cleaning the school environment, (3) Preparation of a systematic program to clean the school environment, (4) Continuation of the program to clean the school environment, and (5) Creating self-motivation in students to clean the school and the surroundings.
Action research was used in the study (Kodituwakku, Wijayakoon, & Samarawickrama, 2017; Sethunga, 2009). Data were collected through observations, informal interviews, class meetings, parents’ meetings, discussions among teachers, and photographs.
Observations: The time of arrival of the students to the school and the ways the time was spent after the arrival of the students were observed. The ways the students were already involved with cleaning the school and its surroundings also were observed (Figure 3; Slide #4).
Informal Interviews: Informal discussions and interviews with the students regarding cleaning went on in different occasions. Five-minute discussions were conducted daily, especially when the students came to the science laboratory for their studies on science. Different views on various problems and difficulties encountered in cleaning were presented by the students. Among them the important points were represented by the following excerpts: “Teacher, these guys do not come early to sweep.”; “Today we had to sweep the class. They had to clean the outside.”; “No brooms to sweep. No ekel brooms.”; “Our ekel broom was taken by force.”; and “The prefects are there only to criticize.” (Note: The Coconut Ekel Broom is a 100% eco-friendly product that is used to clean gardens, sidewalks, decks and any kind of surface whether it is wet or dry. For centuries people in tropical countries have been using the Ekel Broom to bundle fallen branches of trees and sweep their outdoor surface. Coconut Ekel Broom is a cleaning tool in between a corn broom and a rake and is made out of the midrib of coconut leaves. https://www.coconutcoirsrilanka.com/products-coir/broom) (Figure 4; Slide #5).
Class Meetings: The principal discussed cleaning in all class meetings, and it was emphasized as a compulsory task. Furthermore, the existing issues about cleaning were inquired about and it was highlighted that the issues would be monitored constantly. In other words, while students were informed again that their participation in cleaning was required, their concerns about participation were listened to and were acted upon as the project continued.
Parent meetings: Parent meetings were conducted once a term for each class and enhancing the students’ achievement is highly focused on in these meetings. Issues like cleaning the school, conducting “Shramadana” (Note: The Sinhala word “Sharamadana” refers to events performed by people voluntarily. At schools in Sri Lanka, parents and community members participate to clean the school or to develop a building or to provide facilities or cook foods for the children voluntarily), controlling dengue and providing a continuous water supply to the school also are discussed in these meetings. Parent comments about the school environment were noted during the meetings.
Staff meetings: Much attention was paid to cleaning the school and surroundings in the discussions at the staff meetings. The teachers were instructed to monitor the cleaning frequently and to motivate the students to use the “garbage bag” (Figure 5; Slide #6).
Prior activities before the intervention
It was observed that although the responsibility for cleaning was given to both primary and secondary sections, the students in the secondary section avoided cleaning. Therefore, the 66 students of the secondary section were selected as the target group for the action research project.
Step 1: Gathering information from students. Students’ comments were collected regarding cleaning the school. Comments included:
- “We don’t like cleaning” is the idea of students in upper classes.
- Some other students commented, “We don’t sweep at home either.”
- “Clothes get dirty when cleaning.”
- “It is disgusting to touch the garbage.”
- “There is no water to clean the toilets.”
- “There is no equipment to clean the toilets.”
- “No equipment for cleaning.”
According to the above data, the following should be the base for the future progress of the action research: (1) Students’ attitudes about cleaning should be addressed; (2) Parents should be guided to involve their children in the normal daily activities at home; (3) Students should be convinced that the cleanliness of the environment is as important as personal hygiene; (4) The need for a continuous water supply for the school; and (5) The equipment required for cleaning should be rearranged and properly maintained. A plan for intervention was drawn up based on the facts identified in the first step. Attempts were made to make a difference in students’ attitudes. In particular, the importance of cleanliness of the environment as well as personal hygiene was constantly emphasized through friendly discussions.
Step 2: Obtaining a continuous water supply to the school. The school is supplied with water from water spring. The spring is located on a hilltop in a forest, and there is a considerable distance from the spring to the school. Therefore, many pipes had been used to transport water; however, pipes were constantly damaged during the rainy season. The following steps were taken to address the pipe issue: (1) With the help of parents, a separate new plumbing system was set up to provide water to the school; (2) The area used to repair the plumbing system was thoroughly cleaned; (3) The pipes were glued together to prevent damage to the pipes; and (4) Parents from different classes were given the responsibility for monitoring the plumbing system and surroundings on a daily basis (two parents per day at the class level).
Step 3: Repair and proper maintenance of equipment required for cleaning. In consultation with the teachers in charge of the classes, the necessary equipment for cleaning was prepared at the class level and safe places were set up to keep the tools and equipment at the class level. A broom and an ekel broom for each class were arranged, and a special place in the classroom was set to store them. In addition, the mamoties (Note: a mammoty, a Tamil word, is a special type of garden hoe common in India and Sri Lanka. The mammoty’s blade is about four times as large as the average garden hoe. In Sinhala, it is called Udalla. “Mann” in Tamil means earth or soil and “Vetti” refers to a cutter, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mammoty (Figure 6; Slide #7). and other equipment necessary for cleaning were kept locked in the school storage room for use when necessary. Furthermore, in the discussions held with the parents, they were encouraged to involve the children in day-to-day household duties.
RESULTS OF FIRST INTERVENTION
Though there was no obvious change in student attitudes by the first intervention, it was evident that the students were concerned about their personal hygiene. The lesser concern for cleaning the school and its surroundings was obvious as well. But the parents’ dedication to their duty was noticeable. Their dedication in turn paved the way to have a continuous water supply for the school (Figure 7; Slide #8). Though a start was made in providing the necessary cleaning tools at the class level, some further obstacles were noted, including some classes continuing to avoid cleaning and a lack of space to store equipment in classrooms.
The ideas of the teachers were collected as the data for the second intervention. The following main points were made:
- Concerns about lower contribution of the students in the upper classes for cleaning.
- Avoiding cleaning by giving false excuses.
- Students do not follow the procedures practiced in the school for garbage disposal (There is a separate place to put the garbage in the school. It is prohibited to use ice cream packets and polythene (e.g., plastic bag) in the school; if students use them, they have to put them into their own garbage bag.
- Even though all the students in the school had been given a “garbage bag”, they throw garbage in the drawers of the desks.
There was also dissatisfaction within the teaching staff regarding the ignorance of the students of upper grades about the cleaning of the school. Accordingly, there was a need for changes at a number of levels.
To address the needs, the following steps were taken:
- Discussions of the issues with the teaching staff headed by the principal.
- Use of a flexible approach to the students to increase their involvement in cleaning.
- Admire the work of students participating in cleaning.
- Avoid being aggressive towards the students.
- Take steps to motivate the use of the garbage bag.
- Take action to obtain more active involvement from the teachers who lived and boarded close by the school.
- Active participation of the prefects for monitoring the cleaning.
- Allocating places for teachers to supervise, and making the teachers aware of the schedule.
- Change cleaning locations of the students from time to time
- Get the assistance of parents to clean the places that are difficult for the students to clean.
RESULTS OF THE SECOND INTERVENTION
The results of the second intervention are explained below:
- Increasing the existing contribution of the teachers in the process of cleaning the school.
Teachers became more interested in the cleaning activities of the school. The school environment is related to the teaching-learning process, and teachers understand that the teacher role also can be enlightened based on the school environment. Hence teachers became more concerned about clean classrooms and the overall school environment.
- Establishing a more efficient prefects’ board in the school.
The prefects were enlightened based on the supervision style of the teachers to work in a flexible way with the students to get maximum participation by highlighting them as examples before the students. Places were separated for the prefects and students to clean and they came to the school earlier in order to clean their places. A separate register was maintained to record the arrival time and the departure time of the prefects and students. As a result the complaints regarding the prefects on negligence were reduced.
- Making a difference in the attitudes of students towards cleaning the school and its surroundings.
Students became more concerned about the cleanliness of the school and their classrooms, and they began to participate in the cleaning activities more willingly. Since teachers began to emphasize the importance of the cleanliness of individual life systems and related places (e.g., home, school, public places such as bus stand, and playground), students began to show more concern about the cleaning process.
The Third Intervention built on the previous two. The following steps were taken in developing and implementing a continuous program to keep the school and its surroundings clean.
- Preparation of a compost pit as a small cultivation tower (Figure 8; Slide #9) for composting by collecting decomposing garbage collected at the school.
- Use of organic manure obtained from the compost pit. This small tower to develop compost manure was built using items taken from a coconut tree.
- Stop the further use of polythene in the school; the students were asked to bring their lunch in a lunch box and this was supervised by the teachers.
- Preparation of a model cultivation ground for the school (Figure 9; Slide #10). As a component of a good school environment, a separate place for cultivation of vegetables was developed. In this area students were able to grow different vegetables and take the harvest home for family use.
- Keeping parents well informed and thus gaining ongoing parental support for the changes.
RESULTS OF THE THIRD INTERVENTION
- A compost pit was prepared as planned.
- Gradually, the school and its surroundings were cleaned more successfully.
- The school’s cultivation tower was more successful than previously.
- Supervision of this process was entrusted by the Principal to the Deputy Principal and the teaching staff. The maximum cooperation of these staff became a crucial part of the success of the project.
The aim of the fourth intervention was to arrange continuous voluntary “Shramadana” campaigns to keep the school and its surroundings clean. As our school is located in a rural area, most of the parents are self-employed and they are not government employees. Accordingly, this program was designed for one parent to participate in the Shramadana once a month, and the Shramadana work was limited to a short period of time (one and a half hours). This programme was planned and highly supported by the officials of the School Development Society which is also a voluntary body in a school. In Sri Lankan schools School Development Societies have been established with the participation of school principals, teachers, parents, old boys/girls, and community members to help school activities. The fourth intervention focused more attention on the cleanliness of classrooms and the overall orderliness and physical environment of a school.
RESULTS OF THE FOURTH INTERVENTION
Overall, parents were highly supportive of the actions taken through the interventions. Continuous parental involvement in this programme was noticeable. The result has been a pleasant environment in the school. This has paved the way for another well-organized programme in the school (Figure 10; Slide #11).
- The students’ involvement in the cleaning increased and they did it with greater self-motivation. Students were more concerned about the environment and they spent time to grow plants and vegetables and water the plants willingly.
- The students began to act as if it was their responsibility to clean the school.
- The school environment has been better maintained, and students’ complaints about the misbehavior of some students regarding the cleanliness of the school have been noted.
- The learning-teaching process at the school has benefitted by the more pleasant environment. It was evident through the increased daily attendance of the students and the greater active involvement of students in different aspects of school activities.
- A programme to clean a school should be planned considering developing student involvement through their own motivation. Based on the programme reported in this paper, student groups or classess are to be allocated specific areas of the school to clean on a daily basis. Classes with more students are to be given larger areas. The areas allocated for the classes should be changed from time to time.
- The students should be motivated to love the school’s physical environment with activities related to the environment.
- Programs that are designed to clean up the school environment should be developed and implemented in a student-friendly manner and with parent involvement.
- A pleasant school can be created in part by cleaning the school and the surrounding environment.
- The programme to clean the school should be continued and updated from time to time according to the needs.
- The cleaning of the school and its surroundings should be monitored daily.
Kodituwakku, G., Ratnayake, D.A.S.D., Susilawathi, S.A., Ranathunga, R.R., Dias, M.A.A.S., Munasinghe, M.A.P., & Nellihela, V. (2006) Schools for the child: Child sensitive good practices in Sri Lankan schools. EIU Experiential Learning Programme. Maharagama, Sri Lanka: National Institute of Education and Seoul: APCEIU.
Kodituwakku, G., Wijayakoon, W.M.C., & Samarawickrama, D.Y.S. (2017) I am an action researcher: A guide for educational professionals. Educational Research Unit, North Western Provincial Department of Education, Sri Lanka (In Sinhala).
Sethunga, P. (2009). Action research for professional development: Guide for teacher educators and school teachers. Peradeniya: University of Peradeniya (In Sinhala).
To cite this work, please use the following reference:
Gunathilaka, L. (2021, November 19). A student friendly programme to clean the school. Social Publishers Foundation. https://www.socialpublishersfoundation.org/knowledge_base/a-student-friendly-programme-to-clean-the-school/