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Equipping school children with essential health and nutrition knowledge

© UNICEF/BANA2013-01312/Mawa
Sakib Hossain, 13, attends schools at Sher-E-Bangla Government Primary School. He was forced to drop out of school because of acute malnutrition.

By Rad Rahman

Dhaka, 30 January 2014: Sakib Hossaib (13), a promising student at Sher-e-Bangla Government Primary School, was forced to drop out of school because of acute malnutrition.

Sakib resembles the face of numerous Bangladeshi children who are forced to roam the streets of Dhaka begging for food. His single mother, a garments worker with limited resources and time to take care of her children, was unable to provide the necessary sustenance for Sakib to be able to attend school. As a result, the child’s weight declined rapidly. Where he had been an ace student, he found himself struggling, without the support of the community.

Early education can be particularly challenging for children who do not have access to proper nutrition or breakfast in the morning.

“My mother was working all the time, and even though my seven-year-old brother and I ate, we had no idea about good nutrition,” says Sakib, who missed fourth grade because of acute malnutrition.

Today, Sakib is much more knowledgeable about the kind of food necessary to ensure that he has a balanced diet, and says, “I love spinach and apples. I am much more capable and confident about telling my mother what I would like to eat, and it’s great not to have just rice and lentils for every meal.”

Schools disseminate essential nutrition and health messages

A teachers’ training package on health and nutrition named “Better Health Better Education (BHBE) for primary schools was developed in 2009 by jointly UNICEF and the Government of Bangladesh. It provides crucial and important knowledge to teachers on essential health and nutrition issues, which is filtered down to their pupils.

© UNICEF/BANA2013-01309/Mawa
Students of enjoy protein-rich biscuits during their break period at Sher-E- Bangla Govenment Primary School, in Mirpur, Dhaka on 8 October 2013.

The BHBE package focuses on providing key messages about water, sanitation, personal hygiene, and the linkages between health and nutrition. Additionally, in order to ensure that children are protected against imminent natural disasters such as flooding and cyclones, children are taught about invention prevention and are given psychosocial care through school counselors who are trained in maintaining inclusiveness and preventing injuries.

In order to facilitate this kind of intervention, tools include eye charts, first aid boxes, nutrition charges, glasses, jugs, and waste baskets are distributed among primary schools in Bangladesh

Sharmin Ahmed, a school teacher at Sher-e-Bangla School, says, “Children would not only regularly become sick, but they truly had no idea about the value of hand washing and keeping their shoes on while going to the toilet, so as to prevent contracting germs.”

Today, posters regarding sanitation and hygiene are incorporated into all classrooms and are visible in all corners that provide a visual reminder to children who study at the school.

Energy-boosting nutritious biscuits

An average Bangladeshi earns less than 100 USD a month. Taking this into account, educators in Sher-e Bangla School and over 30 different schools in the poorest parts of Dhaka and three upazilas (sub districts) are provided with the necessary sustenance of biscuits during recess time.

Many students do not have the access to proper food, and this measure, although initially appearing minor, creates the environment for children to perform better, and facilitates the energy levels needed to absorb class lessons and to prevent injuries.

Awareness on educational issues is important and serves as an important and essential tool to combat the long-lasting challenges of intergenerational poverty and stunting. Combatting this issue involves a holistic approach that addresses all aspects related toeducation.

As a result, developing the mechanisms for collaborating and coordinating among all stakeholders to promote health through schools is crucial., “Says Humayun Kabir, the Deputy Director for the Directorate of Primary Education, which is in charge of developing this partnership with schools on the ground.

Government of Bangladesh are working towards advocating for the physical, social, and psychological space of students’ learning, and they recognize that even a small packet of biscuits go a long way in ensuring such an environment.



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