Many studies have shown that the state of health and nutrition of learners affect their school performance. Among the health concerns for learners are nutritional deficiencies, malaria infections, iron deficiencies, among others. Hunger also affects learning capacities of children, thus feeding programs in schools help mitigate these problems. Given these conditions, education authorities conclude that healthy children can stay in school longer, attend classes regularly and learn better.
The Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization Regional Center for Educational Innovation and Technology (SEAMEO INNOTECH) recognizes the significance of the convergence of education with health and nutrition issues. This area became one of its programmatic strategic priorities under its 8th Five-Year Development Plan (FYDP) 2011 to 2016. The Center foresaw that “pandemics such as HIV/AIDS and AH1N1 and critical health-related issues such as nutrition, sanitation, water values, reproductive health, ageing, etc. will increasingly impact on and require responses from education systems, particularly schools,” since empirical findings have already shown a significant relationship between health/nutrition issues and education dimensions such as students’ access to basic education services and quality of their learning experience, among others. The recent pandemic caused by COVID-19 calls for more active school health care and nutrition practices, particularly water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in schools, complemented with practice continued at home.
Furthermore, in its “Competency Framework for Southeast Asian School Heads,” the Center also identified “promotion of primary health care” as one of the competencies that school heads must possess in order to lead 21st century schools. This role is more emphasized given that some studies also found that “school-based nutrition and health interventions can improve academic performance.”
The Ministries of Education (MOEs) of the member countries of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) consider school health care and nutrition as important dimension to improve quality and access to education. They partner with nongovernment, government, and international organizations to promote increased health and nutrition services and programs such as deworming, micronutrient supplementation, control of malaria, and vision/hearing screening. Other MOEs implement programs that increase access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene in schools and some to promote healthy lifestyle and behavior through skills-based education. However, many of these school health care and nutrition policies and programs have not been extensively studied and thus, SEAMEO member countries have historically not benefitted from a systematic comparative research.
To address this gap, the Educational Research Unit of SEAMEO INNOTECH conducted a study of national policies, frameworks, and programs related to school health care and nutrition (SHCN) and visited selected primary schools identified by education ministries as having successfully implemented School Health and Nutrition (SHCN) practices. The study focused on primary schools as this is the most crucial stage since success in the primary level can determine success in succeeding levels of education. This research was expected to provide a regional perspective towards the development of a SHCN agenda for primary schools in Southeast Asia.