Nairobi, Kenya – No one said teaching is easy, but it’s even harder when a teacher has to work with hungry students whose brain power is being depleted by long-term malnutrition.
Francisca Kivuva, a teacher at the Kanyonga nursery school in Kathonzweni District of Kenya, now knows that one of the best ways to ensure her students are learning their lessons is to make sure they are properly nourished. In addition to teaching the alphabet, numbers and simple writing skills, this early childhood development (ECD) teacher has learned to monitor the growth and development of her 40 students to help combat malnutrition.
Malnutrition can be hard to detect and results in long-term stunting; it has also been linked to poor cognitive development and learning problems. Given the severe consequences of this condition, an innovative, Jhpiego-led partnership among educators, health care providers and non-governmental organizations is helping teachers in and around Kathonzweni District learn how to monitor the weight of all children under five years old, as recommended by the Kenyan government.
According to the project’s health management information system, Kathonzweni District has the lowest growth monitoring rates for all children under five as compared to other districts in Makueni County. While the national growth monitoring rate for children over age two is 85%, the monitoring rate in Kathonzweni District for children over two is just 28%.
To raise these very poor numbers, partners of the APHIAplus KAMILI project joined with the Kenyan government and UNICEF to train ECD teachers on growth monitoring of children under five, Vitamin A supplementation, deworming, hygiene and sanitation promotion, documentation, reporting and nutritional aids. The teachers were picked from areas that were hit the hardest by malnutrition.
Kivuva explains, “We were taught how to determine nutrition status of a child by monitoring weight versus height, and age versus height using middle upper arm circumference, height and weight parameters.” In addition, “periodic iron and vitamin supplementation, deworming and water and sanitation are also incorporated,” she says, adding that they were also given tips on how parents should pack snacks for their children who are enrolled in school.
Kivuva is now showing other teachers at her school how to monitor weight using height boards and a hanging scale. As part of their efforts, teachers are also reaching out to parents and inviting them to bring in their toddlers and children under age one on scheduled growth monitoring days.
District Nutrition Officer Francisca King’oo is impressed by the teachers’ knowledge-building and performance: “It was very important for the teachers to be mentored on early detection and referral of malnourished children. This means that all severe acute and moderate cases of nutrition disorders will be captured and documented.”
Nancy Ndeto, District ECD Program Officer, said that based on the success of this intervention, the Kenyan Ministry of Education is ready to partner with APHIAplus KAMILI to expand it: “We have 104 ECD centers in the district and we are targeting all of them. We wanted to start with the schools in the most ‘hot spot’ divisions before proceeding to the other centers. With APHIAplus KAMILI’s support, we will reach all of them.”