By Anaïs Loizillon, research officer, Education for All Global Monitoring Report
Children’s educational prospects are shaped long before they get anywhere near a school – in the womb, when brain development creates the physical foundations for future learning. In the 2010 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, we emphasized the importance of maternal nutrition, access to antenatal care and skilled attendance of deliveries for the birth of healthy babies. And in an earlier post, we pointed to the need to look at maternal health and education in tandem, rather than separately, as maternal education is one of the strongest antidotes to risks related to childbearing. The need for improved access to and quality of maternal health care should be seen as a high priority for education.
The latest annual State of the World’s Mothers report from Save the Children, released last week, adds to the powerful evidence that education and maternal health reinforce each other. The report underlines the fact that “Countries that train and deploy more front-line female health workers have seen dramatic declines in maternal, newborn and child mortality.” Educating girls and women empowers them to make better health-related decisions, but also increases the potential pool of female health care workers.
One common barrier to both education and health is user fees, which keep children out of school and deny women access to the health care they need. “Charging fees for basic services is locking millions of vulnerable women out of health systems and exposing their children to unnecessary risks,” we reported in the 2010 GMR. Last month saw some good news on that front, as Sierra Leone scrapped health fees for about 1.5 million women and children. A study last year by Amnesty International found that cost is a major factor behind Sierra Leone’s high level of maternal mortality, as is a failing health care system, especially for the poor and disadvantaged. Abolishing fees will save lives – and bolster children’s future chances to learn. It is a first, big step in the right direction, but needs to be followed with investments strengthening the health system.