Increased funding for education in developing countries is a chief concern of foreign aid efforts. Providing a child with an appropriate education gives him or her the tools to be more successful later in life and, consequently, the potential for economic mobility. Unfortunately, enrolling children in formal schooling does not guarantee that they are retaining the information from lessons.
What is one of the most prominent obstacles hindering the child’s learning process? Hunger.
Chronic hunger can prevent students from making the most of a formal education, no matter how hard they try to ignore its effects. The sad truth is that hunger can have physical and psychological effects on young people that make learning substantially difficult.
Food is the fuel necessary to get through a normal day. Calories in food provide energy to carry out regular day-to-day activities. Without an adequate amount of this energy, students may fall asleep in school or lack the energy to pay attention to an entire day of classes.
The brain, like the lungs, heart, arms and legs, is a part of the human body. It requires energy to function properly. Children experiencing hunger are more likely to have problems with memory and concentration because they do not have the energy to carry out these functions. Malnutrition can tamper with sleeping patterns as well, making a child too tired to get anything out of a full day of school.
Additionally, the brain develops rapidly at a young age. Without the right nutrients, the brain cannot develop properly, resulting in long term effects on learning abilities.
Malnutrition makes children more susceptible to illnesses. Certain vitamins and minerals are needed to maintain a strong immune system, but, many times, poverty cuts off an individual’s access to these nutrients. Starving children get sick and cannot attend school. Because their immune systems are weak already, they cannot return to a healthier state for a while. Children cannot learn from an in-school education when they are absent for an extended period of time.
Studies from the American Psychological Association reveal the psychological effects of hunger on education. Hunger has been observed to cause depression, anxiety and withdrawal, all of which are obstructions to a child trying to focus on education.
Hunger can also cause behavioral problems. In a classroom setting, a single child’s behavior can affect the rest of the students, the teacher’s attention and the overall learning atmosphere. In this case, hunger not only disturbs the affected child’s learning, but the learning of others as well.
Food, more specifically nutrient-rich food, is necessary for a school-aged child to make the most of a formal education. Though foreign aid efforts to increase funding for educational programs are extremely important, their effects may not have a significant impact if the problem of hunger is not addressed first.
– Emily Walthouse