Better learning: linking health and education

Many children in South-East Asia are affected by illnesses. This hinders their progress at school. Better hygiene is improving the health of 15 million students.

In Laos, illnesses such as diarrhoea and tooth decay are common. They can be prevented by adopting simple hygiene practices, such as brushing teeth and washing hands. However, only half of the population has direct access to clean water. Many children have constant toothache because they can’t brush their teeth. This painful condition makes it difficult for them to learn and causes many to muss school.

The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is working on site to improve the students’ health. On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ is advising the Ministry of Education and Sports in Laos and developing the Three Star Approach together with UNICEF, the children’s welfare agency of the United Nations. As in the restaurant sector, the number of stars awarded to the school reflects the standard of hygiene and sanitary facilities. The authorities examine the schools and ensure that improvements are clearly communicated. As parents prefer to send their children to good schools, there is an incentive to pay more attention to hygiene issues.

Jonida Gasendo is head of Ramon Torres National School. She takes the health of her students seriously: ‘We are participating so that the children learn about hygiene. And what they learn in the classroom they take back home and pass on to family members and friends. This has positive impacts far beyond the school.’

 Improved health, better education


Through the schools, the approach reaches children across the board in their daily learning environment. More than 50,000 schools in Laos, the Philippines, Cambodia and Indonesia are already taking part. A two-year study has shown that more than one-third of children who clean their teeth at school do indeed have better teeth.

15 million children in the four countries have been reached so far by the initiative. Demand is growing: almost 75 per cent of all students in the Philippines took part in the survey in school year 2018/19; in 2020/21 the figure was 93 per cent. This increase in participation rates goes hand in hand with improvements in hygiene. Almost half of the schools in Cambodia now have at least two stars.

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