If the Philippines wants to see improvements in the performance of learners, Senator Win Gatchalian stressed the need to address the prevalence of hunger and malnutrition among children.
Results of the 2022 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) showed that 12% of 15-year-old learners in the Philippines reported coming to school without eating every day or every other day. PISA results also show that there is a negative correlation (-0.61) between hunger and mathematics performance. This means, hungry students are not able to perform well.
When asked how often they did not eat because there was not enough money to buy food, 3% said four to five times a week, 9% said two to three times a week, and 15% said about once a week.
Based on the Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Research Institute’s (DOST-FNRI) data for 2021, 20% of children aged 5 to 10, the equivalent of 2.7 million, are stunted or have a low height for their age. The agency also reported that 2.8 million or 21% are underweight, while around 1 million or 7% are wasted.
“Kasabay ng pag-angat natin sa kalidad ng edukasyon ng mga kabataan ang pagtugon sa kanilang mga pangangailangan sa kalusugan at nutrisyon. Alam nating mahirap matuto ang batang gutom, kaya patuloy nating dapat hanapan ng iba’t ibang paraan kung paano pangalagaan ang kalusugan ng ating mga mag-aaral,” said Gatchalian, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Basic Education.
The PISA study also emphasized how education systems can help students meet their nutrition needs. In Finland, for example, students are guaranteed free meals from pre-primary to upper secondary education. Ireland’s School Meals Program, on the other hand, funds the provision of needs-based meals for students and children in schools and organizations.
Gatchalian earlier said he is eyeing to push for the implementation of a universal school program to address learners’ nutrition woes. While Gatchalian admits that implementing this program would entail lots of resources, he maintained that he would continue looking for funds and other innovative ways to ensure that learners’ nutrition needs are met.
To address stunting, which causes poorer performance in school, a 2023 discussion paper from the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) pressed the need to address fragmentation and package a continuum of interventions on maternal nutrition, prenatal and postnatal care, diet of children 6-23 months old, and infant and young child feeding.