Despite government’s worldwide are investing in school health and nutrition, which has a positive effect on children’s academic outcomes, one-third of schools worldwide still do not have access to drinking water and basic sanitation facilities, said a latest UN report.
The report, ‘Ready to learn and thrive: School health and nutrition around the world’, from three UN Bodies- UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP)– is estimated that some 584 million children have limited or no access to basic drinking water services at school. Nearly half live in sub-Saharan Africa, the report added.
“Students learn best in safe and healthy schools. Yet too many educational institutions lack the means to assure good health and well-being, including essential drinking water and sanitation facilities. UNESCO and its partners are calling on the international community to support countries in their investments in health, nutrition and social protection at school – because children deserve an environment where they can reach their full potential., said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.
The report is based on the most comprehensive and up-to-date data. It also provides the first overview of the extent to which countries have school health and nutrition (SHN) policies and programmes in place, . It aims to encourage efforts to improve, scale up and sustain SHN and to provide a basis for monitoring progress.
Furthermore, even though practically all countries in the world provide school meals, roughly 73 million of the most vulnerable children still do not benefit from these programmes.
Audrey Azoulay urged the international community to support countries in investing in health, nutrition and social protection at school “because children deserve an environment where they can reach their full potential.”
FEEDING YOUNG MINDS
School meals alone increase enrolment and attendance rates by nine per cent and eight per cent, respectively, the report said.
In places where anaemia and worm infections are prevalent, de-worming and micro nutrient supplementation can keep children in school for an additional 2.5 years.
Additionally, students are 50 per cent less likely to skip school when the learning environment is free from violence, and absenteeism is reduced in low-income countries when promoting hand washing, particularly for girls during menstruation, when water, sanitation and hygiene is improved.
RETURN ON INVESTMENT
The report also addresses other issues such as the promotion of eye care, mental health and well-being of children, and prevention of school violence.
Measures like these represent a significant return on investment for countries, in addition to improving the lives of children and adolescents, with benefits extending to homes and whole communities.
For example, every $1 invested in school feeding programmes generates $9 in returns, according to the report, while school programmes that address mental health can potentially deliver a return of nearly $22.
UNEQUAL AND INSUFFICIENT
Currently, 90 per cent of countries globally invest in school and nutrition programmes, and more than 100 nations organise school vaccination drives, said UNESCO, pointing to some of the good news in the report.
One in two primary school children receives school meals and nearly every country includes education for health and well-being in its curriculum.
Unfortunately, investments are unequal from region to region, and are often insufficient compared to the needs. The report advocates for stronger commitment from governments and support from the international community.
Globally, investment stands at only $2 billion annually whereas some $210 billion is needed in low- and lower middle-income countries alone.
Key interventions are needed, the partners said, including provision of school meals, vaccinations, de-worming, psychosocial support, and safe and inclusive learning environments that promote health and well-being
Health, nutrition and well-being of learners are key determinants of education outcomes and an integral part of quality education
Investing in the health and nutrition of school-age children and adolescents optimizes investment in education. Healthy, well-nourished school-age children and adolescents learn better and are more likely to become healthy and productive adults. Many learners miss school or do not learn well while at school due to preventable or treatable illness and hunger.
School health and nutrition (SHN) programmes improve education outcomes and are instrumental to tackle the global learning crisis by improving school attendance and retention and ensuring that all girls and boys are able to learn.
School health and nutrition programmes are a priority in education sector efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, to get all learners back to school, and to build more equitable and effective education systems that are resilient to future pandemics and other shocks
Almost every country in the world implements school health and nutrition programmes
Globally, 90% of countries have some form of SHN programme — SHN is one of the most widely implemented approaches to delivering health and social protection.
Many national programmes have already implemented practical and affordable interventions at scale. For example, more than 100 countries have school-based vaccination programmes, more than 450 million school-age children are de-wormed every year in schools in low- and middle-income countries, and almost every country includes education for health and well-being in its curriculum.
School feeding programmes are the world’s most extensive social safety net, providing school meals to almost one in two of all children in primary school.
School health and nutrition programmes are a cost-effective investment, feasible in all settings, and deliver significant development gains
Schools reach millions of children and adolescents. SHN programmes are a cost-effective investment, benefiting multiple sectors in addition to education and health, including social protection and, where school meals are linked to local procurement and support to local farmers, agriculture.
For example, school feeding programmes deliver US$9 in returns for every US$1 invested, and school programmes that address mental health can potentially provide a return on investment of US$21.5 for every US$1 invested.
Investing in SHN delivers immediate, lifelong and intergenerational benefits for individuals and contributes to the creation of human capital and the sustainable growth of nations.
Despite this, only US$2 billion is invested each year in addressing the health needs of school-age children and adolescents, whereas some US$210 billion is spent on educating this age group in low- and lower-middle-income countries. The allocation of resources to improve the health and well-being of school-age children and adolescents must increase substantially to maximize investment in education.
School health and nutrition programmes promote inclusion and equity in both education and health, and more needs to be done to reach those who are missing out
Well-designed SHN programmes can deliver the greatest benefits to the most disadvantaged children. They contribute to more equitable and inclusive access to education and health services for those most likely to miss out — girls, the poor, sick and malnourished, those living with HIV, children with disabilities, and those affected by crises.
These programmes can promote gender equality by increasing girls’ access to and retention in education which, in turn, can reduce the likelihood of early marriage and early pregnancy.
Many of the children and adolescents who could benefit most are not reached because they are not in school or because of low programme coverage
More attention must be paid to the school environment, which is critical to health and learning
Access to safe water, sanitation and hand-washing facilities in school is essential for learners to practice hygienic behaviours, to prevent illness, to enable girls to participate in school during menstruation, and to ensure that schools remain safe during disease outbreaks.
However, almost one in three schools in the world does not have safe drinking water; one in three does not have adequate sanitation, and almost half have no hand-washing facilities with water and soap. Children and adolescents in low-income countries are the least likely to attend schools that have these basic services.
Emerging national data show that availability of infrastructure and materials suitable for students with disabilities, including accessible toilets, is low — particularly in lower-income countries.
There is clear evidence that children and adolescents learn better in schools that are safe and inclusive, but school violence and bullying are common in all countries — affecting both girls and boys — and coverage of school-based violence prevention programmes is low.
Strengthening coverage and impact requires school health and nutrition programmes that are comprehensive, responsive to the context, and sustained by policy and financial commitments
Significant expansion of school feeding programmes over the last decade, with more than 90% financed by national governments, shows what political commitment can achieve. This commitment needs to be extended so that all learners can benefit from the comprehensive SHN interventions that can improve their health and their ability to make the most of their education.
Many countries have made efforts to integrate interventions — for example, most countries deliver school feeding together with other interventions — but, relatively few have adopted comprehensive approaches that are embedded in the education system.
Effective and sustainable SHN policies and programmes also require stronger collaboration across sectors; adequate and sustained resources for implementation at school level; strong school leadership; increased emphasis on the quality of interventions; support for teachers and other school staff; active involvement of learners and engagement with parents and communities.
School health and nutrition programmes need to adapt to respond to emerging issues that have a significant impact on the health and well-being of learners. More attention needs to be given to addressing school violence and bullying, the needs of learners with chronic conditions and disabilities, and the rise of mental health problems and overweight and obesity.
UNESCO developed the report in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Global Partnership for Education (GPE), World Bank and World Health Organization (WHO), with the support of the Research Consortium for School Health and Nutrition and UN-Nutrition Secretariat.