Skip to main content

India's "learning crisis": Result of household food insecurity among 47% of 12-year-olds

Counterview Desk
In their just-released study, “Inequalities in adolescent learning: Does the timing and persistence of food insecurity at home matter?”, Jasmine Fledderjohann, lecturer in sociology and social work, Lancaster University; Elisabetta Aurino, lecturer, Imperial College London; and Sukumar Vellakkal, Assistant professor, Birla Institute of Technology and Science, have sought to investigate inequalities in learning achievements caused by food insecurity by taking the sample of 1,911 Indian children ages 5, 8 and 12 years. 
The authors’ estimates include extensive child and household controls and lagged cognitive scores to address unobserved individual heterogeneity in ability and early investments. Overall, household food insecurity at any age predicted lower vocabulary, reading, maths and English scores in early adolescence, the study finds. 
Adolescents from households that transitioned from food insecurity at age 5 to food security at a later age, and adolescents from chronically food insecure households had the lowest scores across all outcomes, it insists.

A note on the study by the authors:

There has been an impressive expansion in school enrolment in India since the early 2000s. Despite this, India is in the midst of a “learning crisis”, with improvements in learning lagging behind increases in enrolment.
Worldwide, India also has one of the highest rates of child undernutrition and household food insecurity – that is, inadequate or inconsistent access to enough safe and nutritious food to sustain a healthy life.
Both of these issues have negative implications for the long-term health, well-being and productivity of young people, as well as for the economy more broadly.
In our recent study, we used survey data from the Young Lives study of childhood poverty to examine whether there is a link between food insecurity and learning for Indian adolescents.
There are good theoretical reasons why learning and food insecurity may be linked. When households experience food insecurity, they may have to make difficult decisions in order to meet the family’s nutritional needs.
For instance, households that need money for food might reduce spending on school fees and materials. Children might miss school, have less time available to study, or even drop out altogether so that they can contribute to the household economy.
Food insecurity can also cause children to experience hunger, undernutrition, and micronutrient deficiencies. This can lead children to have problems with concentration and memory. It can even impair their cognitive development.
Children who experience food insecurity might also feel irritability and shame. This could impact negatively on their interactions with their parents, teachers and peers.
In the Young Lives data, 47% of 12-year-olds had experienced household food insecurity at some stage during the observation period. And even 18% of the wealthiest families had experienced food insecurity; food insecurity is not exclusively a matter of poverty.

Associations with learning

The study followed the same children over time, beginning in 2002. It tracked both food insecurity and children’s learning outcomes in four domains: reading, English, maths, and local language vocabulary.
In order to test for a link between food insecurity and learning, we applied statistical modelling. We used information on whether households had experienced food insecurity when the children were aged five and eight, and when they entered adolescence at age 12.
We found that food insecurity was negatively linked to learning outcomes in all four domains. This was true even after we accounted for other important factors.
For example, it could be that poverty affects both food insecurity and learning – and so any link between these outcomes is actually the result of poverty. We accounted for this and other possible explanations in our robust models, and still consistently found a negative association between food insecurity and learning across domains. 
We also considered the timing and persistence of food insecurity. Do early life experiences affect later learning? Or can adolescents recover from earlier food insecurity? Are there differences if adolescents experience shorter versus longer periods of food insecurity?
We found that both timing and persistence do matter, but they have different effects in different learning domains. For vocabulary and reading, early and persistent food insecurity were very detrimental for learning. English and maths were more complex.
For English, early food insecurity didn’t matter as much, but later and persistent food insecurity were linked to poorer learning outcomes. This may reflect that, at the time of the study, English language learning happened later in the curriculum. 
For maths, food insecurity at any time was strongly and negatively associated with learning. This may reflect the fact that maths learning at one level is built directly on learning at a previous level. In other words, a child who does not learn basic addition due to food insecurity will struggle with more complex maths. In contrast, for subjects such as reading, once foundational skills are established, some catch-up for missed material may be possible in the short term.

Feeding the future

Our work demonstrates the lasting effects of early life experiences. Addressing food insecurity may be an important part of resolving India’s learning crisis.
It may also contribute to achieving some of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Goal #2 aims to end hunger and achieve food security. Our findings suggest that meeting this goal may have ripple effects by reducing inequalities (goal #10) and ensuring inclusive, quality education for all (goal #4).
As we have argued elsewhere, early intervention to prevent food insecurity is important to ensure that children are not disadvantaged while learning foundational skills. Scaling up early childhood feeding programs may be useful for targeting early food insecurity.
Offering free remedial learning classes for children who experience food insecurity may also enable them to catch up with peers. Finally, where social protection is inadequate to prevent children from working, providing safe, well-paid employment opportunities over school breaks may help children to work without missing learning opportunities.
---

Comments

TRENDING

Top upper caste judges 'biased' towards Dalit colleagues: US Bar Association report

By Rajiv Shah  A high profile report prepared by the influential  American Bar Association (ABA) Center for Human Rights , taking note of the fact that “in the 70-year history of the Indian Republic, only six Dalit judges have been appointed to the Supreme Court”, has taken strong exception to what it calls “lack of representation of Dalits” in the legal profession and the judiciary.

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Billion vaccine doses? Devil is in details: 70% haven't got 2nd jab; numbers jacked up

By Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury*  India has reached the one billion Covid-19 vaccinations milestone. It is indeed a great news and a big salute to the less paid ordinary health-workers in interiors of India for this feat. The government wants all of India's 944 million adults to get vaccinated this year. Around three-quarters of adults in the country of 1.3 billion people have had one shot and around 30 percent are fully vaccinated, the government says.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Failure of 'trickle down theory' behind India's poor Global Hunger Index rating

By Dr Gian Singh*  On October 14, 2021, two organisations, Concern Worldwide (An Irish aid agency) and WeltHungerHilfe (a German organization that researches the problem of global hunger), jointly published the Global Hunger Index (GHI) for 2021. These organizations have included 116 countries in the world hunger rankings.

Global Hunger Index: Govt of India response pathetic, 'lacks' scientific empirical evidence

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ* Come 16 October – and the world once again focused on the most basic need for a person’s survival: food! The first World Food Day was observed in 1994, to mark the launch of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. Ever since, the day is marked to highlight the need and importance of food security across the world. The significance is accentuated especially in these difficult times like the C-19 povidandemic. The theme for 2021 is ‘Safe Food Now for a Healthier Tomorrow’, emphasising on the various immediate and long-term benefits of consuming safe and healthy food.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Fresh efforts to subsume Buddhism within Hindu fold 'undermining' Ambedkar

By Aviral Anand*  From Yeola in 1935, when Dr Ambedkar announced that he would not die a Hindu, to Nagpur in 1956 when he converted to Buddhism, is a considerable distance in time. But, there was in him a need to make a public announcement in 1935 about moving away from Hinduism. 

March opposes Sabarmati Ashram renovation: 'Mahatmaji had kept open for access to all'

Counterview Desk A Sevagram to Sabarmati march, which began on October 17 from Wardha (Maharashtra) and will end on October 24 in Ahmedabad (Gujarat), has demanded that the Sabarmati Ashram, the government should not impose "the fashion and glitz of a shallow modernity" at the cost of Rs 1,200 crore, in the name of renovating the Ashram founded by Gandhiji.

Nehru legacy? GDP-centric growth has had 'no positive impact' on people's livelihood

By Dr Kamal Nayan Kabra*  Experience has shown that many counties adopt measures to go in for the growth of their GDP, basically in the existing framework, though also going in for, at the same time, new products and technologies and similar other changes. It is believed that by means of this process enough new job opportunities would emerge to meet the economy’s needs both in terms of numbers as also in terms of the requisite remuneration (wages) as also the supplies of the goods and services to maintain the economy on an even keel.