Innovative ‘toolkit approach’ improves nutrition and learning outcomes in Rajasthan’s schools

Published - May 19, 2024 12:38 am IST - Jaipur

Children at a school in Rajasthan’s Sikar district using the toolkits provided by Nourishing Schools Foundation.

Children at a school in Rajasthan’s Sikar district using the toolkits provided by Nourishing Schools Foundation. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

An innovative “toolkit approach” adopted in the government schools of Rajasthan’s Shekhawati region has strengthened the relationship between nutrition and learning outcomes among the children.

Following reports that a large number of adolescent students were suffering from undernourishment and anaemia, the Nourishing Schools Foundation launched the project in the academic year 2023-24. The intervention was aimed at connecting children with activities designed to improve health, promote hygiene practices, and strengthen their learning ability.

The Foundation’s work in Shekhawati’s Sikar and Jhunjhunu as well as three other districts in the State has led to a significant improvement in the health and nutrition status of young students, especially those ages 9 to 14, while demonstrating the impact of community-driven solutions. Besides addressing the specific needs for nutrition, the games and activities have connected the students with science curriculum, reading comprehension and numeracy.

Nourishing Schools Foundation’s co-founder Archana Sinha said the awareness generated through toolkits had equipped the young students to combat malnutrition in their communities and enabled them to manage school gardens and adopt hygiene practices. “We have enabled the students to solve their problems related to nutrition, hygiene and environmental stewardship in their schools and communities,” Ms. Sinha said.

The Foundation said the POSHAN district profile of Sikar prepared by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) revealed that 21% of women ages 15 to 49 were underweight, and 20% were underweight as per their body mass index.

The behaviour change interventions through the school going children had a high potential in Sikar district, said the Foundation.

“In our midline survey of 20 schools in Sikar district, the number of students washing their hands with soap increased from 73% to 91% within just one cycle of using our toolkit. Besides, 92% of children reported increasing their consumption of fruits and vegetables, and 50% reported increasing their consumption of local herbs and greens,” Ms. Sinha said.

In the toolkit rollout, the Foundation provided boxes of games and activities to the schools, asking them to encourage the children to take up “small ventures”, such as making their own soap, building a handwashing station, and growing their own nutritional garden. These activities were aimed at schoolchildren of classes IV to IX.

“Over two cycles of engaging with the toolkit, children solved problems in their schools and communities related to nutrition. The teachers have appointed ‘student ministers’ in the domains of food and nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, as well as agriculture,” Ms. Sinha said. These ‘ministers’ took turns leading games and activities related to their domain with their classmates over an eight-week period.

The games and activities were strategically designed to improve the students’ reading comprehension, numeracy and critical thinking skills, while simultaneously fostering a deeper understanding of nutrition and health concepts. Ms. Sinha said as many as 3,118 children had joined the activities in 20 schools of Sikar district.

From its baseline survey of 1,573 students in Sikar district, the Foundation detected that 48% were from Other Backward Classes, 31% from Scheduled Castes, 18% from the general category and 2% from Scheduled Tribes. According to Niti Aayog’s National Multidimensional Poverty Index-2023, 9.09% of Sikar’s population is multidimensionally poor.

Ramavtar Ruhela, Principal of the Government Senior Secondary School at Dishanu in Sikar’s Lachhmangarh tehsil, told The Hindu that the children in his school were using the toolkit independently without the supervision of their teachers. “The toolkit is generally used by the children during the seventh or eighth period and on Saturdays which are ‘no bag days’,” he said.

Mr. Ruhela said the admissions to his school had increased following the intervention, as the programme was viewed as being useful by both the children and their parents. Sharing the survey results has also helped the parents get a comprehensive scenario of the challenges in their children’s schools.

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