This is an invited memo prepared for the Spring 2022 Meeting of the Global Education Forum. It addresses the importance of the condition of children as a determinant of education outcomes, and specifically the role of school meals in addressing the well-being and learning of schoolchildren. The memo is structured in two parts: the first explores the investment case for school meal programmes in low- and lower-middle income countries, and identifies the financing gaps; the second part explores the financing options and opportunities available to these countries in the current, financially constrained circumstances. The context for this memo is defined by the COVID-19 pandemic and fundamental changes in economic conditions triggered by the war in Ukraine. Poverty and malnutrition, two of the greatest barriers to learning, have increased – and are set to increase further as inflation in food prices hits the poor. School closures during the pandemic intensified an already severe learning crisis as children were locked out of classrooms, with the greatest consequences for poor children who have least access to distance learning opportunities. This combination of learning setbacks and worsening child poverty threatens a perfect storm for education with further learning losses, rising inequality, and increased drop-out rates. This paper argues that school meals, especially when combined with complementary school health interventions such as WASH, vision, deworming and behaviour change, are among the most effective (and potentially cost-effective) interventions available to governments seeking to transform education outcomes. The memo was prepared by two initiatives of the School Meals Coalition: the Research Consortium for School Health & Nutrition and the Sustainable Financing Initiative for School Health and Nutrition.
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