Education is like a magic wand for children”it can provide them with a secure, happy and safe place to spend time (ping!); it can turn a scary future into one filled with possibility (swoosh!); it can even make a child healthier (tadaaa!).
Yes, education enables children to lead healthier lives, and to make improved choices for themselves and their future families. A recent study actually shows that better education leads to longer life expectancy. It is, as much as anything, a child survival issue. And achieving universal primary education by 2015 is one of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.
UNICEF supports all kinds of school-based initiatives that improve children’s health. One simple but powerful one: teaching children good sanitation practices like regular hand washing. Hand washing, believe it or not, can change the world. If all the people in the world started washing their hands with soap, diarrheal deaths could be reduced by a whopping 44 percent (currently, diarrheal disease kills more than 1.5 million children under five each year). UNICEF also provides schools with much-needed latrines, and promotes school sanitation clubs that, corny as it may seem, make it fun for children to learn and practice good hygiene habits. (It works!)
UNICEF creates in-school programs to teach older children important life skills, like how to avoid choices that might put them in danger of contracting HIV/AIDS or other diseases. We even teach teachers, so they are adept at life skills training and know how to present themselves as positive role models.
Because education can so powerfully transform lives (think of that magic wand image again), no child should miss out. But in many countries, girls’ education isn’t valued to the extent boys’ is. UNICEF is working very hard to change this. In countries like Yemen, Tajikistan, Kenya and many, many others we’re getting increasing numbers of girls in school. That makes us very happy. And it makes them more healthy.