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Soaring Food Prices Mean Less Education for Poor

Author: Gene B. Sperling, Senior Fellow for Economic Policy and Director of the Center for Universal Education
May 1, 2008
Bloomberg.com

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Rising food prices have led to deadly riots in fledging democracies such as Haiti and caused World Bank President Robert Zoellick to project that 100 million more people will fall into poverty.

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.

An International Food Policy Research Institute evaluation of Bangladesh in 2003 found that overall achievement test scores in schools with feeding programs rose 15.7 percent, with a 28 percent increase in mathematics scores. A 1989 Jamaican study found that providing breakfast to primary-school pupils significantly increased both attendance and arithmetic scores, with children who were stunted or previously malnourished benefiting the most.

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.

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