Around the world, learning levels remain low and therefore a priority area for improvement. A key barrier to participation and learning in school is student health, especially in low- and middle-income countries. However, due to a lack of coordination between health and education departments, the health of schoolchildren—and the impact of their health on their potential to learn—is sometimes overlooked. Child health programs can improve learning outcomes, and schools are an especially important, convenient, and cost-effective venue to deliver these interventions. Results from eight randomized evaluations in Burkina Faso, China, Kenya, and the United States show that health interventions delivered at schools can improve student health and positively affect learning outcomes. The programs included in this insight address a variety of health issues. A school-based deworming program increased learning outcomes by directly treating a contagious condition at school. Other programs increased learning outcomes by delivering iron supplements or eyeglasses, addressing non-contagious conditions that nonetheless inhibit the ability of children to learn. Finally, some programs increased learning outcomes through a broader health and anti-poverty approach of providing free meals at schools. Meanwhile, programs that aimed to improve health by providing only information typically did not improve health or learning outcomes unless accompanied by other complementary interventions.
Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, J-PAL
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