Education is one of the very few opportunities for poor people living in impoverished, underdeveloped countries. Basic education programs provide children with the skills necessary to acquire employment, as well as basic knowledge pertaining to health, hygiene and disease prevention. And yet, according to the U.N., 250 million children — even those who have spent at least four years in school — are not able to adequately read, write or count.
While many factors play into this staggering statistic, hunger is a key culprit when it comes to the millions of uneducated children worldwide. Here’s how hunger hurts learning:
1. Children who are malnourished suffer up to 160 days of illness each year, which means 160 missed school days.
2. Vitamin A deficiency, which is directly linked to malnutrition, is the leading cause of preventable childhood blindness in developing countries; The World Health Organization estimates that each year, 500,000 children go blind as a result of vitamin A deficiency. Blindness makes it increasingly difficult for children to learn alongside their peers.
3. Malnutrition intensifies the symptoms and effects of diseases, such as malaria and measles. Children who are unable to combat these diseases lack the physical capacity to attend school and learn.
4. Malnutrition stunts not only physical, but also mental development, in young children, preventing them from reaching their full human and socio-economic potential as well as their potential to learn.
5. One out of five children born from an under-nourished mother is born with low birth weight. Low birth weight in children is linked to mental retardation, learning disabilities and blindness, all of which may prevent a child from receiving an education.
Hungry children suffer not only from malnourishment—and the litany of other harms it causes—but also from the incredible disadvantage of not being physically well enough to learn. Global education and global hunger are not mutually exclusive issues. A brand-new school with ample resources in Tanzania, for example, is useless without a classroom full of healthy children who are ready to learn.
Expecting Malaria-infected children to attend school and absorb information from excellent basic education programs is also impractical. We have a global responsibility not only to support education programs in third-world countries, but also to ensure that children are able to take advantage of the incredible opportunities education holds for them.
Due to the difficulty of learning while hungry and ill, in order to provide effective education, it is crucial that aid programs also address the global health and hunger crises in impoverished countries.
– Elizabeth Nutt