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Friday, May 02, 2008

"Soaring Food Prices Mean Less Education for Poor"

I recently talked about aid programs in developing countries that target women (actually, the discussion was about the lack of such programs). Soaring food prices make it more difficult to provide the programs that do exist to keep kids, especially girls, in school:

Soaring Food Prices Mean Less Education for Poor: Gene Sperling, by Gene Sperling, Bloomberg: ...Among the casualties of the food crisis will be the schooling of millions of the world's poorest children. The connection is as simple as a school lunch. Ensuring that children get a free meal at school not only is a powerful tool for combating malnutrition for 350 million hungry kids, it is also one of the best education strategies.

Studies have shown that children who are fed at school have increased concentration, stronger short-term memory, increased verbal fluency and improved cognition. ...

Beyond improved learning, school feeding can also work as an incentive to get extremely poor parents to enroll many of the 72 million children and 226 million teens who aren't attending school in developing countries. Each year in school may lead to a wage increase of 10 percent or more when a child enters the workforce. But parents coping with extreme poverty often find the immediate costs of paying for school, as well as the opportunity costs (lower family income and less help fetching firewood or water and caring for sick or young relatives) too burdensome.

It is often girls who are left out of school due to reliance on them for family chores and because in some cultures, parents under-invest in daughters since they are expected to marry and enter their husbands' families. The best way to improve the cost- benefit analysis for such impoverished parents is to eliminate school fees, lower the costs of school uniforms and reduce the time spent traveling to and from school.

A small incentive -- such as a free school lunch or being able to bring home a bag of rice -- can also have a powerful impact on encouraging such poor parents to enroll their sons and daughters in school.

The World Food Program finds that during a school-feeding program's first year, average enrollment increases by 28 percent for girls and 22 percent for boys. In Niger, schools with feeding programs saw enrollment increases of 66 percent for girls and 23 percent for boys. During 2005, Rwandan schools with feeding programs saw attendance rise from 73 percent to 94 percent, while absenteeism was halved and dropout rates were cut by more than two-thirds.

While the WFP tries to find $3 billion more annually to provide school feeding to all poor children, the organization's vice president, Nancy Roman, recently told me that the WFP needed $750 million just to prevent a significant cut in existing school feeding programs amid a 55 percent increase in prices for rice, wheat, cereals, and legumes last year. ...

    Posted by on Friday, May 2, 2008 at 12:24 AM in Development, Economics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (3)


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