School health activities not only support the sustainable development goals for health (SDG 3) and education (SDG 4), but also SDG 2 (reducing hunger), SDG 5 (gender equality) and SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation). School health programs represent a great investment.
Building on the lessons of the Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs work along a similar path of development objectives, as well as encourage new strategies for long term sustainable development by linking activities across sectors. Educators working in school health see synergistic collaboration across many sectors.
Making education equal for all children
The most important SDG for school health activities is SDG 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Research has demonstrated that school health activities promote equitable access to, and participation in, quality education through activities such as deworming (providing medicine to fight intestinal worms, which can cause anemia, stunting, lethargy, impaired cognitive development, poor short-term memory, and increased absenteeism), micronutrient administration, school meals, provision of water and sanitation facilities.
Other programs also boost efforts under SDG 4: reproductive health education, prevention education on HIV and other sexually-transmitted infections, counseling and support services for orphans and vulnerable children, and life-skills education.
It is commonplace to observe that school health activities level the playing field for all students, supporting goals for equitable access and participation in a quality education. Each of these key school health activities, by definition and practice, also overlaps with other important SDGs.
Fighting hunger through schools
SDG 2 – End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture – is addressed directly by school feeding activities. There is strong evidence that a mother’s education improves her children’s nutrition, but school-based feeding activities are a real-time response to the immediate needs of school age children.
School feeding reduces the economic burden on families by providing a meal at school or take-home rations, and can be complemented by micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) administration. These activities are often linked with nutrition education, and they make a lasting impact on families by building the capacity of children and communities for resilience to food insecurity deriving from economic and agricultural shocks.
Learning to be healthy in school
SDG 3 – Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages – not only addresses the provision of quality health care, but also improved health knowledge and healthy behaviors. It is directly supported through school health activities that often are implemented in coordination with ministries of health.
Activities such as provision of clean water and sanitation (latrines), STI and HIV prevention education, provision of reproductive health services, school-based deworming, vision screening, and vaccination programs, are a few examples of school health activities that either provide health services to school age children, improve health knowledge, or promote health seeking behavior.
Making gender equality a reality
SDG 5 – Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls – is one of the goals that education is best-suited to address through its own processes, as well as through school health activities. Education enables girls and women to reach their full potential – in parity with men and boys – in their homes, communities, workplaces and institutions of influence. This is a fundamental attribute of classroom-based education as well as distance and non-formal educational opportunities for all persons in a community.
School health activities that promote gender equity and equality in participation and attainment of education include provision of clean water and separate sanitation facilities for girls, menstrual hygiene management, provision of hygiene kits, reproductive health education, STI and HIV prevention, prevention of unwanted pregnancy, of early marriage, of gender based violence and other forms of abuse, life skills education, and school safety promotion. Comprehensive sexuality education and reproductive health services in schools are other important ways school-based health activities serve SDG 5. All of these school-based health activities also link synergistically to SDG 3.
Clean water and sanitation for all
SDG 6 – Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all – The goal promoting clean water and sanitation is fundamentally promoted by school-based provision of quality infrastructure for education, including water points, hand-washing stations, as well as separate sanitation facilities for girls and boys.
Hygiene promotion activities in school health also promote synergy with SDG 3 (helping to prevent water-borne diseases) and SDG 5 (by de-stigmatizing menstruation and promoting improved menstrual health practices at schools and in communities.)