These materials are intended to address the widespread problem of hunger and malnutrition among Zambian school children. They are based on the classroom curriculum priorities for nutrition education as identified by teachers, heads of schools, local nutritionists and inspectors of schools. The area targeted was Luapula but most of the issues apply to the Zambian school population at large.
Many school-age children in Zambia suffer from malnutrition. Particularly common problems are Protein-Energy Malnutrition (PEM), vitamin A deficiency and iron deficiency. Children with these deficiencies are stunted (small for their age), do not grow well, are vulnerable to disease, are often listless and inattentive and do not do well at school. They may also have other more specific health problems, such as poor eyesight and anaemia.
The reason for these dietary deficiencies may be that children do not get enough to eat, and even more the reason is that children do not get the variety of foods they need. Another problem is that many schoolchildren do not eat frequently enough. Children need to eat often to maintain their energy levels, yet even when food is available in the home, many children go to school without breakfast; some only eat one meal a day. This has a detrimental effect on their learning as well as on their long-term growth and health.
These nutritional conditions are aggravated by other health problems. Widespread diarrhoeal diseases contribute to malnutrition and put lives at risk; they (and other infections) are spread by poor personal and environmental hygiene and sanitation.
Malaria, like other serious diseases, weakens the body, causes lack of appetite and can lead to protein-energy malnutrition. Malaria is also one of the major causes of anaemia in malaria endemic areas such as Luapula. Prevention and correct treatment of these diseases can therefore improve nutritional well-being considerably.
All these problems can be tackled by natural means, with local resources, and are therefore priorities for education. In designing these materials, however, it was felt important to start from the positive idea of promoting good health rather than the negative idea of curing illness. These lessons encourage good dietary and hygiene practices, which will help learners throughout their lives and benefit their children as well.
The materials aim both to improve children’s health and nutrition knowledge and also to make a practical impact on the behaviour of children (and their families) in terms of feeding and hygiene.
This is not so easy. When children arrive at school they have already been educated in "nutrition". A child’s idea of what is right and good to eat, how to eat it and when, is formed at home from the moment it is born, if not before. In this sense nutrition education is different from other school subjects because it must work with what is there already, in the child, in the family and in society.
In order to do this nutrition education has a very broad task. It must:
Above all, it must enlist the help and support of families so that children do not receive contradictory messages from home and school and so that families realize that their children’s ability to learn depends on proper feeding at home.
These purposes are all reflected in the teaching approach in this book.
Since the home is where nutrition and health are learnt every day, it is crucial to create a good partnership between school and family. There are many ways of doing this. For example, families can be invited to Open Days and can contribute; health and nutrition questions can be discussed in the PCSC; parents/guardians can come to the school to demonstrate or talk about food production and preparation.
In these lessons, families are directly involved through the homework children are given. Pupils are expected to ask parents/guardians about health and nutrition questions, or to talk at home about what they have learnt at school.
In preparation for this role, it is advisable to call a meeting of parents/guardians and teachers before the start of the nutrition education lessons so that parents/guardians will know what to expect and can be consulted on what the school is planning. At this meeting the head and teachers should:
a) discuss topics and learning objectives with the parents/guardians (the Remember messages in each lesson make a useful summary)
b) consult families about what exactly children should learn
c) inform parents/guardians that they will be involved in the homework given to their children in order to reinforce learning.
A follow-up meeting at the end of the lessons is also desirable.
Everyone in the school should be aware of the need for tact in dealing with practices in the home. Families may not be pleased if (for example) their children are asked to tell their class about home practices, or if children come home and criticize the family’s normal practices. Teaching will not succeed if it presents itself in direct opposition to the home.
Schools can, on the other hand strengthen the bond with families by looking for what is good in home practice and reinforcing it, showing respect for established values, customs and beliefs, asking parents/guardians to share their expertise in preparing and producing food, and calling on families to support the messages of the lessons.
The first three chapters are on food and diet. Their purpose is to get children to recognize the need for a variety of foods, and the different values of different foods, and to make connections with their own diet and food practices. Chapter 1 (OUR FOOD) deals with basic information about what food we eat, where it comes from and what we like. Chapter 2 (FOOD FOR LIVING) goes through the main functions of food and builds up clearer food values (e.g. the importance of fruit and vegetables). Chapter 3 (FOOD FOR THE DAY) focuses on daily diet, the need for regular balanced meals, healthy snacks and good food practices.
Chapters 4 to 6 are about aspects of health which affect nutrition. Chapter 4 (KEEPING CLEAN) deals with domestic hygiene. It establishes the idea of dangerous "dirt you cannot see" (bacteria) and discusses why it is important to keep things clean. Children have to think about their own role in keeping things clean in home and school. Chapter 5 (DIARRHOEA) calls on this knowledge of hygiene to explain the spread of diarrhoeal diseases and how it is affected by children’s own behaviour. The final chapter (MALARIA) makes children aware of the dangers of mosquito bites, how they can be avoided and the importance of early treatment.
Components and lesson elements
The materials consist of a Pupil’s Book and a Teacher’s Book. All the lessons follow approximately the same format.
Background information for teachers (Teacher’s Book) gives technical information and suggests some of the teaching challenges. It is only for the teacher and should not be given to pupils as notes.
The Introduction (Teacher’s Book) leads into the lesson, often by using the pictures in the Pupil’s Book. Where necessary new words relevant to the topic are introduced. Difficult concepts can be explained in the local language.
Activities. The activities aim at direct practice and discussion of the lesson objectives. Teachers should retain their freedom to use other activities which they think are more suitable to their children. They know their pupils best. However, they should make sure that the new activities do practise the lesson objective. Above all it is important that pupils learn actively by doing, talking and thinking and not only passively, by being told.
The Reading text reinforces the rest of the lesson and sums up the essential teaching points. However it is not essential to the lesson and can be given for homework if the lesson takes too long. The teacher should assess the ability of the pupils to read and understand a particular passage. It is important that they do not lose the point of the lesson while painfully deciphering the words. If they have difficulty -
a) give them help (there are suggestions in the Teacher’s Book)
b) discuss the meaning of particular sentences and key words
c) use the local language to explain meanings
This exercise is intended to develop in pupils the capacity or spirit to evaluate their own behaviour through self-questioning. Pupils ask themselves the question, answer it mentally, and then record their answers in writing.
Teachers should emphasize that the answer is what pupils think. There is usually no "right" or "wrong" answer. To reinforce this point the teachers can demonstrate asking themselves the question and answering it for themselves.
Teachers should make sure pupils have answered the question mentally, and know what they want to say, before they start to write.
While pupils are writing, teachers should go round the class to look at the answers, but not interfere with the content of what children write. If there are any interesting answers, discuss them with pupils.
Teachers can use this activity to find out about families’ and pupils’ practices, beliefs and feelings without appearing too inquisitive.
N.B. Teachers should assess the amount of writing required and their pupils’ capacities, and decide if there is time for this activity in the lesson. If not, it can usually be given for homework.
The Remember message is intended to focus the minds of the pupils on the essential point of the lesson. Make individual pupils responsible for each message, train them to explain and give examples and questions. Spread the word by getting pupils to copy the messages on strips of paper to take home to their families. Use the messages to revise previous lessons and also at the end of a chapter as a grand summary. The Remember messages are listed at the end of this book. They can be handed out to families or pinned up in the classroom after the lessons are over.
The teacher should use homework to involve families in lessons. Responses from parents/guardians may be practical, such as the improved feeding of children, or information and comments on what is done, how and why. Sometimes the homework consists of children explaining their lessons to parents/guardians. It is essential to review homework at the beginning of the following lesson. This ensures that children do the homework and helps to inform teachers about home practices and ideas.
Event Track. A chapter can culminate in a special event involving teachers, pupils and parents/guardians. Such events can enhance the interest of parents/guardians in health and nutrition questions. They are also a way of demonstrating to the parents/guardians what their children have learnt about health and nutrition. They can be held at meetings of the PTA (Parent Teachers Associations), or PCSC (Parent Community School Committee), Open Days and other public gatherings. They may include, for example, plays or sketches, songs and dances, posters, models, maps, surveys, presentations and so on. There are ideas in the Teachers’ Book at the end of each chapter.
Evaluation and assessment. No formal tests are given with these lessons. The Ask Yourself section provides an element of continuous self-assessment. It is also possible to evaluate the learning of the children as a group periodically. To do this it is suggested that teachers or helpers hold informal focus group meetings with children and helpers before and after a series of lessons. For these materials, two sets of discussions are proposed, one on food/eating and one on health.
A framework for these discussions is given at the end of this book. Remember, they should be done both BEFORE and AFTER the lessons.
Children at Grade 2 should learn in the language they are most familiar with. If this is not English, then at least the Remember messages, the Reading passages and Ask Yourself exercises should be translated into the familiar language.