Though rural students in China face many educational disadvantages due to a lack of resources, an equally serious obstacle in their academic performance may not be as immediately apparent: their health.
Surveys conducted by the Rural Education Action Program (REAP) have shown that a large fraction of schoolchildren in China are affected by basic health problems. For example, 25%-40% of elementary school students in Rural China suffer from nutritional deficiencies, over 10% have uncorrected vision, and nearly 40% are infected with intestinal worms.
All of these conditions have significant negative impacts on children’s learning, putting them at a disadvantage compared to their richer, urban counterparts. These health problems are all easily treated, but are often overlooked in resource constrained communities. REAP aims to identify health care delivery solutions that can help give these children a better future.
To date, REAP has completed several large-scale nutritional projects that have identified the extent to which poor nutrition is affecting child outcomes, and explored various ways to improve student nutrition including educating parents about anemia, egg a day, supplementing meals, and providing performance incentives (now in its second phase)。
We have communicated the results of these projects to both provincial and national level officials. Thanks to REAP’s work on multivitamin supplementation (see here，here，here, and here)，school-based nutrition has become an integral part of national education policy, and several provinces have already adopted their own nutritional supplementation programs. REAP has also moved beyond traditional health education campaigns to experiment with new ways of delivering health information. Our latest project uses mobile phones to communicate important nutrition information to parents in remote areas.
REAP has a number of new and exciting projects in the pipeline. Having confirmed the high prevalence of intestinal worms in rural China, we are now exploring the most effective way to reduce the risk of infection.
We have just launched the "Seeing is Learning" eye care initiative, an innovative venture with the stated goals of educating students and their families about proper eye care, testing children for poor vision, and improving access to corrective lenses.
The nutrients that a child receives in her first 1000 days of life—from conception to 24 months—have a strong and positive effect on her lifelong development.
We are also expanding our scope to include one of the most vulnerable groups in China: infants and pregnant women. From maternal nutrient supplementation to educating infant caregivers and nourishing infants themselves, REAP is working to identify simple and sustainable ways to ensure that Chinese babies receive the nutrients they need to grow up to be good students—and productive members of society.
Click the projects below to learn more!