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

Lip-service on World Environment Day vs 'watered-down' eco-safeguards

By Shankar Sharma*  Just a few days ago, the world remembered the routinely forgotten global environment on the occasion of World Environment Day, briefly though, maybe just for the day. There were reports of a few high profile ceremonies in different parts of the country, including a few in New Delhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly asked the people of our country to plant one tree per each person as a mark of respect/ gratitude for our mothers.

New Odia CM's tribal heritage 'sets him apart' from Hindutva Brahminical norms

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  Mohan Charan Majhi took the oath as the new Chief Minister of Odisha following the electoral defeat of the BJD led by Naveen Patnaik, who served as Chief Minister for twenty-four years. The new Chief Minister is the son of a security guard and a four-time MLA who hails from the remote village of Raikala in the Keonjhar district. He belongs to the Santali tribe and comes from a working-class family. Such achievements and political mobilities are possible only in a democratic society. Majhi’s leadership even in the form of symbolic representation in a democracy deserves celebration.

Pellet gun fire severely injures Dalit worker off Bangladesh border

By Kirity Roy*  This is regarding an incident of firing pellets by the Border Security Force (BSF) personnel attached with Panchadoji Border Outpost of ‘E’ Company of 90 BSF Battalion on a Schedule Caste youth of village Parmananda under Dinhata Police Station of Cooch Behar district of West Bengal. The victim was severely injured and one portion of his face became disfigured due to pellet firing by the BSF.

Moving towards sustainable development? Social, environmental implications of HCES data

By Dr Vandana Sehgal, Dr Amandeep Kaur*  Sustainable development, the high time agenda, encompasses economic, social, and environmental dimensions, aiming for a balance between all these aspects to ensure long-term well-being and prosperity for all. One of the crucial aspects of sustainable development is consumption patterns. Consumption patterns refer to the way individuals, households, and societies use resources and goods. Sustainable consumption patterns entail using resources efficiently, minimizing waste, and considering the environmental and social impacts of consumption choices.

Sanction to persecute Arundhati Roy under UAPA politically motivated: PUCL

Counterview Network  Top human rights group, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, has demanded that the authorities should immediately withdraw the prosecution against top author Arundhati Roy and Dr Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a Kashmir academic, under the " unconstitutional"  Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act  (UAPA), calling the Delhi  Lieutenant-Governor nod for the Delhi police move "politically motivated".

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

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.