Improved Learning through better Health, Nutrition and Education for the School-Age Child.
Better learning in school and better educational outcomes
Good health is essential for learning and cognitive ability. Ensuring good health when children are of school age can boost attendance and educational achievement. School children are often thought of as naturally healthy, but studies have shown that in Africa, more than half of the schoolchildren are stunted in height and are anaemic, and that in many areas most schoolchildren are infected with worms, bilharzia and malaria parasites. These highly prevalent conditions are all associated with impaired cognitive ability.
Global and national initiatives to achieve universal access to basic education mean that more children now have the opportunity to go to school. As a result, more children can be reached by the school system than ever before. They need health interventions because most of the children now attending school were previously beyond the reach of both the education and health services. School health programmes can help ensure that children are healthy and able to take full advantage of what is often their first and only opportunity for formal education.
Children who begin school with the worst health status, have the most to gain from health and nutrition programmes. They also have the most to gain educationally, since they show the greatest improvement in cognition as a result of health intervention. School health programs thus particularly benefit the poor and the disadvantaged. These children are increasingly accessible through schools as a result of universal education strategies.
Increasing numbers of countries have recognized the need to ensure good health and development during the most vulnerable early years of life. Integrated management of childhood illness, early child development, and growth monitoring and promotion programmes all help to ensure that a child enters school fit, well and ready to learn. But the school age child continues to be at risk of ill health, and the health of children, especially girls, often deteriorates during the school years. School health programmes ensure that children remain healthy during the years that are critical for education.
School-based health programmes, if well-designed, can be amongst the most cost-effective of public health interventions. Since they promote learning, and simultaneously reduce repetition and absenteeism, they can also be used as leverage for existing investments in schools and teachers. But they must be well designed. Many countries have discovered that by redesigning their existing programmes -particularly school feeding programmes - they can enhance the educational effectiveness while actually reducing the cost.