Challenge: Health and nutrition in rural Chinese schools
Health and welfare issues are largely neglected in rural areas despite requirements by the Ministry of Education for health education to be part of the program at every school. Widespread problems that call for remediation include:
- Malnutrition. School lunch programs often are limited to rice and vegetables with the consequence that children’s growth is stunted by insufficient or a complete lack of protein or calcium in their diets. Other children suffer from Vitamin A deficiency and iron deficiency anemia; many consume low levels of iron and zinc, nutrients known to affect cognitive functioning.
- According to one study, about thirty percent of children in some rural communities have vision problems, but few wear glasses.
- In many villages, human night soil is still used as fertilizer for farming which contributes to the transmission of intestinal parasitic infection, a condition that can be greatly reduced by regular health screening programs.
- Teachers smoking in the presence of students is common at schools.
- Most students in primary and middle schools in the country’s poor rural areas are still using open-air lavatories with poor sewage treatment systems or a lack of such facilities. The absence of indoor plumbing and hand-washing facilities further contributes to hygienic problems.
Many of these issues affect not only health but also cognitive development. Even those not directly bearing on school can be most readily addressed in the school environment.
- CSF is working with health non-governmental organizations to design a basic hygiene and nutrition education program for teachers, students and parents.
- CSF has been in discussion with one of China’s biggest dairy companies to provide, through CSF funding and company sponsorship, a daily milk supply for as little as RMB10 per month (around US$1.50) at no or very low cost to parents.
- CSF efforts are underway to design better but affordable toilet facilities for village schools.
- Promoting regulations for tobacco-free school yards is another issue on CSF’s agenda for improving school health programs.
- CSF has installed sports facilities, including basketball/badminton courts and playgrounds, at project schools, and is collaborating with another NGO to provide a simple fitness training program to schools.
- Fuping County project schools have been supplied with playgrounds, ping pong tables, basketball, and badminton courts.