Education: More investment in school health and nutrition will unlock children’s potential

An estimated 584 million children have limited or no access to basic drinking water services at school.

According to a study by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, almost half of them live in sub-Saharan Africa.UNESCO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Program (WFP).

Supportive environment

In addition, despite the fact that almost every country in the world provides school meals, about 73 million of the most vulnerable children still do not benefit from these programs.

“Students learn best in safe and healthy schools” said Audrey Azoulay, Director General of UNESCO.

Speaking on behalf of partners, she called on the international community to support countries in investing in health, nutrition and social protection in schools, “because children deserve an environment in which they can reach their full potential.

Feeding young minds

School meals alone increase enrollment and attendance rates by nine percent and eight percent, respectively. report disclosed.

In places where anemia and worm infections are common, deworming and micronutrient supplementation can keep children in school for another 2.5 years.

In addition, students are 50 percent less likely to skip school when the learning environment is free from violence, and absenteeism is reduced in low-income countries by promoting handwashing, especially among girls during menstruation, and by improving water supply, sanitation and hygiene.

Return on investment

The report also addresses other issues such as promoting eye care, child mental health and wellbeing, and preventing school violence.

Measures like these represent a significant return on investment for countries beyond improving the lives of children and adolescents, with benefits extending to homes and entire communities.

For example, according to the report, every dollar invested in school feeding programs generates $9 in return, while school-based mental health programs have the potential to generate nearly $22 in revenue.

Lesson from Malawi

UNESCO spoke with Vezzy Kacheche, who teaches life skills education, also known as Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), at a secondary school in northern Malawi.

There, students are increasingly dropping out of school due to early and unwanted pregnancies, early marriage, drug and substance abuse.

Ms. Kaleche provides her students with relevant information about health and sexuality, helping them “demystify adolescence” at a time when young people get most of their information online or from their peers.

“One of the girls in my class was on the verge of dropping out of school because of risky sexual activity and addiction to alcohol,” she recalled. “After watching a video about sexually transmitted infections during my class, she approached me to get more information privately.”

Unequal and insufficient

Currently, 90 percent of the world’s countries are investing in school and nutrition programs, and more than 100 countries are organizing school vaccination campaigns, said UNESCO pointing out some good news in the report.

One in two primary school children receives school meals, and almost every country includes health and wellness in its curriculum.

Unfortunately, investments uneven from region to region, and are often insufficient compared to needs. The report calls for stronger commitment from governments and support from the international community.

Globally, investment is only $2 billion a year, compared to about $210 billion needed in low- and lower-middle-income countries alone.

Key actions are needed, partners say, including providing school meals, vaccinations, deworming, psychosocial support, and safe and inclusive learning environments that promote health and well-being.

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