Better health for better learning: UN agencies commit to strengthening school health


The importance of school health was highlighted at a meeting in Paris, France, this month, with UN agency representatives coming together to determine a new joint approach to promoting health to strengthen education outcomes through stronger coordination and joint work. Agencies agreed to collaborate on a number of actions, including work towards the development and release of a new State of School Health report in 2021. 

Hosted by UNESCO and co-convened with the World Food Programme, the 2 July meeting looked at the contribution of school health and nutrition to human capital development, and reviewed the latest evidence on the impact of school health programmes.  This includes acknowledgement of the benefits of shifting from a focusing on the first 1,000 days of life, to the first 8,000 days in order to maximize investments in developing human capital including better learning outcomes. 

The meeting explored how UN agencies can better work together, along with other key stakeholders such as civil society, to ensure school health and nutrition generates a lasting impact that allows children and young people to reach their full potential.

Speaking at the meeting, UNESCO Assistant Director–General for Education, Stefania Giannini, encouraged UN agencies to increase collaboration, noting that the area of school health was broad and required the expertise of all partners.

“Health is fundamental to education. Healthy and happy learners learn better, while poor health can have a detrimental effect on school attendance and academic performance. Equally, good quality education is critical to health and well-being,” Ms Giannini said.

“As UN agencies, we should be pleased by the progress we have made over the past twenty years. Schools are being provided with water and sanitation facilities, health education is becoming a core part of curriculums, and basic health services are being scaled up. However, more needs to be done collectively to create and expand even more meaningful change.”

Ms Giannini outlined UNESCO’s focus in the area of school health, including HIV and sexuality education, and safe, inclusive learning environments that include the promotion of healthy eating and drinking. Carmen Burbano, Director of the school feeding division at the World Food Programme, made the case for the importance of school feeding throughout the full education cycle, starting with children under five and continuing until higher education.

The meeting involved participants from UNESCO, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Bank, Global Partnership for Education (GPE), and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 

The collaboration on school health builds on the global partnership on “Focusing Resources on Effective School Health” (FRESH) established in 2000 as a way to promote the health of children, especially girls, so that they could take full advantage of education opportunities.