Malaysia’s school toilets get refit after decades of neglect

The government in July allocated RM650 million to address the problem across more than 8,000 schools nationwide.

Azril Annuar

Azril Annuar

The Straits Times


Missing doors strip students of privacy in the toilets (left) and unsanitary sinks. PHOTOS: MUHAMMAD FAKHRI IBRAHIM/THE STRAITS TIMES

October 23, 2023

KUALA LUMPUR – For several decades, Malaysia’s students have been haunted by the prospect of entering a public school toilet – not because of phantoms or ghosts, but due to the terrible condition of the facilities.

These restrooms are often filthy and poorly maintained, pungent with the stench of urine and waste. Broken urinals and toilet bowls, coupled with dirty, wet floors complete the unsanitary picture.

But students can now breathe easier. The government in July allocated RM650 million (S$187.2 million) to address the problem across more than 8,000 schools nationwide.

As at Sept 22, the toilet upgrade project has been implemented or completed in 7,544 schools, representing 90.3 per cent of the 8,354 schools earmarked for development, said a statement by the Prime Minister’s Department.

“The remaining 810, or 9.7 per cent, of the projects are in the final step of the procurement process. The projects are expected to be completed by the end of October,” the statement said.

The move is a welcome relief for teachers, parents and students after enduring decades of poor conditions when answering the call of nature.

In September 2022, then Education Minister Radzi Jidin told a press conference that some students would skip breakfast just so they would not have the urge to use the toilet while in school.

The issue was also recently highlighted by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim in a Facebook post, which featured a letter from a pupil named Maryam asking him to fix the toilets in her school.

Addressing him as “Uncle Anwar”, the nine-year-old girl wrote: “In the first stall of the toilet is a squat toilet. Yes, a squat toilet. Beside the squat toilet is a hole that looks like (a) spider can crawl out any second. The rest of the stalls are the same.”

Eight-year-old Fiona Johari from Sekolah Kebangsaan Bukit Damansara told The Straits Times that the condition of the toilets in her school is terrible. The lights are not working, the floors are wet and the toilet bowls or squatting pans are filthy as they are not cleaned. Often, they are also old and cracked.

“I expect a well-lit, inviting and extremely clean facility. Sitting toilets are my preference and I want the option of having both toilet paper and a hand-held bidet,” said the pupil, whose school will have its facilities upgraded soon.

Prior to the upgrade, school toilets rarely had toilet paper, offering only a rubber hose connected to a wall tap to be used as a hand-held bidet. The hose end is usually left on the dirty toilet floor – making it quite disgusting for anyone to use.

Photographs of the new toilets show a proper bidet, with its squeeze handle hooked upright on a wall fixture, off the floor.

Despite the improvements, some teachers told ST that more needs to be done.

A teacher from an all-girls’ secondary school in Kuala Lumpur said that five restrooms with 20 cubicles are being upgraded at the moment, with the students having the option of using a squatting or sitting toilet.

The teacher, who requested anonymity for herself and the school, revealed that not all five restrooms would be upgraded equally, with more being repaired and maintained.

Another senior teacher from a 130-year-old school in Kedah said that only one of the school’s many toilets has been upgraded, while the rest remained the same.

Unlike the school in the nation’s capital, his school has only squatting toilets available despite the renovation.

“We received funding for only one toilet. The rest remain the same,” said the teacher, who also requested anonymity.

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