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Malnutrition impairing learning

Although India is three notches up on the global education index this year, 46 per cent Indian children are malnourished, which have severely affected their learning ability in schools, according to a UN education watchdog report. Chetan Chauhan reports.See graphics

india Updated: Nov 26, 2008 01:30 IST
Chetan Chauhan

Although India is three notches up on the global education index this year, 46 per cent Indian children are malnourished, which have severely affected their learning ability in schools, according to a UN education watchdog report.

Linking malnourishment to learning abilities, the UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report 2008 said on Tuesday malnutrition impaired brain development of about 40 per cent of children in south Asia, including India.

Dr Arun Gupta of Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India said it was an established fact that malnourished children were poor. “Child malnutrition affect a child in the first two years of life when 80-90 per cent of the brain develops. The impact is irreversible,” he said.

The report also said 45 per cent of children in Std III could not read a test designed for students of Std I and only 50 per cent could read a simple text. About 42 per cent were not able to do simple subtractions or divisions.

In Orissa and Rajasthan, where the malnutrition rate was high, 40 per cent of Std IX students were unable to meet the international classroom learning benchmark, the report said, adding that among them, there was a huge gap between those from sound social background and those from poor socio-economic conditions.

The report criticised India for failing to ensure the benefits of high economic growth reaching poor children. UNESCO quoted the latest National Family Health Survey to state that India reduced malnutrition only by a percentage point to 46 per cent since 1998, while its economy grew by over nine per cent during the period.

India, with a ranking of 102 among 129 nations, allocated just 3.3 per cent of its Gross National Product for school education against eight to 10 per cent for countries like Maldives and the UK.

The report also blamed high absenteeism by teachers, poor-quality teaching, discrimination against the girl child and socio-economic factors for poor learning levels. India lost $2 billion a year because of absenteeism, it said.

Terming dropping out as an emerging problem in India, the report said, “Those with poor learning ability are more likely to
drop out than to be better learners.” In India, only six per cent of students joining primary schools entered higher education against 33 per cent in the developed world. And of them, about 60 per cent dropped out by the time they reached the elementary level.

India’s education ministry officials said a Rs 50,000-crore scheme for universalisation of secondary education will be introduced soon to help check the dropoutrate.