Sergio Ramirez, Senior Project Director, Global Education Group, FHI 360
Why is it important that education programs include lessons on healthy lifestyle habits?
We talk so much about reading and literacy in global education, but that is just one part of a child’s life. If we want to look at development in a holistic way, we have to look at a child in his or her entirety, not just his or her academic ability. There is plenty of evidence out there that shows that schools with better sanitary conditions attract more children. Parents vote with their feet, and if they see a school that is clean, has food and has hand-washing facilities, they are more likely to enroll their child in that school.
How do you see this kind of integration playing out in global education programs?
My dream is that we can inject health messages into teachers’ daily lesson planning, especially in primary education. Four major areas of concern are oral hygiene, handwashing and sanitation, malaria prevention and nutrition. Handwashing and proper use of latrines should be part of every school’s daily routine. Research shows that promoting handwashing in students, especially when they first arrive at school, greatly reduces the number of sick days among children.
In Latin America, proper nutrition is a major issue. Children are eating, but they are not getting the proper nutrients. They tend to eat a lot of junk food that is easily accessible in their neighborhoods.
Other than teachers, who else can help promote healthy habits in education?
Part of the magic of FHI 360’s active learning methodology is that we integrate parents’ participation in very specific ways. We have done this by asking parents to help schools provide children with breakfast each morning, and we have engaged parent associations to improve sanitation in schools. By actively engaging parents in daily school routines, they not only participate in the success of the schools, but also learn healthy habits themselves. This takes some of the burden off of teachers.