KARACHI (UNESCO): Good health and nutrition are foundations for learning and a crucial investment for more sustainable, inclusive and peaceful futures – they can improve education outcomes, empower learners to thrive and promote inclusion and equity in education and health.
On the occasion of the new global report on school health and nutrition around the world entitled ‘Ready to learn and thrive’, UNESCO is helping you get answers to some important questions around school health and nutrition.
What is the state of school health and nutrition around the world?
The good news is that:
9 in 10 countries globally invest in school health and nutrition programmes.
More than 100 countries have school vaccination programmes.
One in two primary school children receives school meals
Almost every country includes education for health and well-being in its curriculum.
And yet many children, in particular girls, are missing out especially in the poorest countries.
73 million of the most marginalized children are not reached by school feeding, undermining their ability to benefit from education.
Over 246 million learners experience violence in and around school every year.
1 in 3 schools do not have basic drinking water and adequate sanitation.
Developed by UNESCO and five UN partners (UNICEF, WFP, FAO, GPE, and WHO), in collaboration with the World Bank, the Research Consortium for School Health and Nutrition and the UN-Nutrition Secretariat, Ready to learn and thrive takes stock of countries’ policies and programmes around health and nutrition, and underscores school health and nutrition as an effective and affordable way to ensure learners learn and thrive throughout their education pathway and beyond.
What does health and nutrition mean for learners and schools?
School health and nutrition is about investing both in learners’ education and their health, with benefits extending to homes and communities.
Ensuring the health and well-being of learners is one of the most transformative ways to improve education outcomes, promote inclusion and equity and to rebuild the education system, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report shows that healthy, well-nourished and happy children and adolescents learn better and are more likely to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.
For example, learners are 50% less likely to skip school when the learning environment is free from violence.
Absenteeism is reduced in low-income countries when promoting handwashing in particular for girls during menstruation when water, sanitation and hygiene is improved, and enrollment rates increase when school meals are provided to learners.
What are some of the key challenges?
Despite significant progress on school health and nutrition, more work must be done to ensure that the programmes in place are comprehensive, meet the needs of all learners and can be sustained.
Many children are still missing out, especially in the poorest countries and most marginalized communities.
While the multisectoral nature of school health and nutrition is a strength, it can also lead to diffused action and scattered interventions. More attention needs to be paid to the quality of progammes, the synergies with existing efforts and the monitoring and evaluating of actions’ delivery and impact.
As the world is facing a global food crisis and struggling with the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, school health and nutrition must be integral to the daily mission of education systems across the globe.
What can we do about it?
To transform education and the lives of children and adolescents, this publication urges governments and development partners to put learners’ health and well-being at the core of the education agenda and to improve the quality and reach of school health and nutrition programmes.
We need comprehensive policies and programmes that address all learners’ needs holistically, are relevant and responsive to contexts and evolving needs, coordinated across sectors and sustained by increased policy and financial commitments.
There are many ways in which schools can promote physical and mental health and well-being. This starts by including health and well-being in curriculum, providing nutritious school meals and ensuring access to health services.
It also means ensuring that school environments are free from violence and conducive to good health, nutrition, development and learning.
Greater efforts to engage learners and communities and to ensure school staff and teachers have the necessary knowledge, tools and support are also needed.
School health and nutrition actions are a cost-effective investment.
They can help reach marginalized learners and advance inclusion and equity, while benefiting multiple sectors including education, health, social protection and agriculture.
How does UNESCO work to advance school health and nutrition?
At UNESCO, school health and nutrition are core parts of its education mandate. We know that children and youth learn better when they are happy, healthy and thriving in school.
This means that their learning environment must feel safe, offer healthy meals and promote physical and mental health.
Guided by its Strategy on education for health and well-being, UNESCO offers technical advice and resources, and fosters resilient and health-promoting education systems.
The Global Standards for Health-Promoting Schools by UNESCO and WHO, for example, supports countries to adopt and institutionalize a holistic approach that promotes the physical and mental health and well-being of all learners.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the interlinkages between education and health and the urgent need to work together across sectors.
This is especially the case around the mental health of learners post-COVID.
In Chile for example, UNESCO provided technical advice to the Seamos Comunidad programme which addresses the effects of the pandemic through a focus on improved relations and infrastructures, and better mental health and learning in school.
Through its work with governments, partners and civil society, UNESCO seeks to create and support education and school systems that foster a safe and healthy learning environment, enabling learners to thrive and get the most benefits out of their education.
A series of guidance and tools were produced by UNESCO to help countries respond to school violence and bullying, school-related gender-based violence, and other forms of violence in and around school.