LINKING SCHOOL GARDENS, SCHOOL FEEDING, AND NUTRITION EDUCATION IN THE PHILIPPINES

Introduction

School gardening in the Philippines was institutionalized as a programme in 1974 by the Department of Education (DepEd), formerly known as Department of Education Culture and Sports (DepEd, 2017). Today, the school gardening programme is known as Gulayan sa Paaralan (Vegetable Gardens in School) and is being implemented to support the school feeding programme (SFP) and agriculture curriculum. An initial assessment done by the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) in 2011 in Cavite province showed that in practice there is very little focus on the link between garden and the SFPs (IIRR, 2011). It is only in recent years that the connection between these two has been made, mostly through various DepEd memoranda. The revival of gardening through the Gulayan sa Paaralan programme in 2007 was a response to the growing incidence of hunger and malnutrition and food price hikes in the country. The programme aimed to increase the awareness of the general public especially students, parents, and teachers on the health, nutrition, and economic contributions of gardens (DepEd, 2007).

In 2014, through DepEd Memorandum Order No. 5, s. 2014, the department revitalized the Gulayan sa Paaralan as part of the National Greening Program. The National Greening Program within DepEd integrates school gardening with waste management and tree growing and caring. These school-based gardens were intended to ensure food security and help meet the nutritional needs of schoolchildren; strengthen schoolchildren’s appreciation and skills in agriculture and the environment; upgrade parents’ knowledge in nutrition and agriculture; and improve family livelihood prospects through enhanced knowledge and skills in food production (DepEd, 2014). The programme provided garden tools, certified vegetable seeds, and trainings on food production. In support of this programme, in 2011 former Senator Edgardo Angara launched the nationwide Oh My Guldy! (Oh, my vegetable) campaign, with national agencies and the private sector sponsoring school vegetable gardens in public elementary schools. The campaign focussed on encouraging Filipinos to consume vegetables that are packed with vitamins and minerals needed by school-age children. Involvement of children in planting, growing, and harvesting vegetables in school and home gardens are crucial in achieving the increased consumption of vitamin- and mineral-rich crops (Philippine Senate, 2011).

The SFP, on the other hand, an intervention within the Department of Education, was enacted into law in 2018. DepEd implements the SFPs to address under-nutrition and short-term hunger among learners to improve school attendance and to reduce dropouts in schools (DepEd, 2016). The SFPs may be school-initiated or sponsored by individuals, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and private companies. DepEd’s SFP implementation guidelines resulted from the roundtable discussion conducted in July 2012 with government and NGOs.

SFP, complemented by deworming and micronutrient supplementation, has been proven to increase school attendance, cognition, and educational achievement (Bundy et al., 2009). In their analysis of SFPs, Bundy and colleagues found that in many parts of the world, SFPs have been used with the belief that education and learning capacity depend on good nutrition. SFPs also serve as platforms for other human development outcomes (reducing hunger and aiding in the development of children, improvement of nutritional status, and promotion of good health, see chapter 2). Furthermore, SFPs reduce gender and social inequalities by encouraging families to send their children to school (Bundy et al., 2009).

For DepEd, SFPs are considered a sound investment for education and human development. SFPs are also one of the thrusts of public-private partnerships as many private companies see SFPs as effective in providing interventions to schoolchildren in need. In other countries, health and nutrition programmes are lodged under the Department of Health. In the Philippines, there is a health unit under the Department of Education and it is their responsibility to look at the health and nutrition of all school-aged children enrolled in public elementary schools. This is done through the School Health and Nutrition Programmes, which have three components: nutrition support to learners, healthy school environments, and medical/dental health management.

School gardening and school feeding guidelines present each other as complementary programmes. However, these two programmes have been implemented independently of each other to date in the Philippines. Documentation of challenges have identified a wide range of contributing factors including availability of resources, knowledge and skill gaps, unsustainable gardening approaches, and weak monitoring and evaluation of support programmes.

Responding to these challenges, IIRR, Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (FNRI-DOST), and DepEd implemented a 2-phase action research project. In 2012 to 2015, the integrated school nutrition model was developed and adapted in a single province. In 2016 to 2018, the model was improved and implemented at the sub-national level. Initial outcomes led to its adoption at the national level.

Action research methodology

The integrated school nutrition model that links three related programmes was developed capitalizing on the potential of schools as platforms to address food and nutrition challenges. As part of the model: (i) school gardens were enhanced with agroecological technologies such as bio-intensive gardening (BIG) to improve garden productivity and sustainability: (ii) supplementary feeding with iron-fortified rice and indigenous vegetables from school gardens was provided to identified malnourished (wasted and severely wasted) students. Recipes with indigenous vegetables were also developed and used; and (iii) nutrition education methodologies for children and caregivers were tested and adapted (IIRR, FNRI-DOST, and DepEd, 2018). The model was initially developed through an action research project (Phase 1) implemented in 2012 to 2015 in a single province with the support of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

The model builds on existing nutrition interventions of DepEd, such as the school-based supplementary feeding programme (SBFP) and Gulayati sa Paaralan. The model emphasizes sustainability and synergy of programmes. Nutrition education was also initially identified as a missing link. The study has revealed the effectiveness of the integrated model in improving the nutritional status of children; improving the knowledge, attitude, and practice of both children and parents; and sustaining the implementation of bio-intensive nutrition gardens and crop museums that aim to retrieve and conserve crop cultivars while improving year-round availability of a diverse range of climate resilient, locally adapted, and nutritionally important vegetables.

Phase 2 was a 28-month action research project, conducted in 2016-2018, that aimed to institutionalize and scale up the integrated school nutrition model to improve nutritional awareness and status of school-age children in the Philippines. The model was improved with emphasis on ways to strengthen all three components. It also tested a scaling up approach. The scaling up relied largely on a critical mass of schools also known as lighthouse schools (Figure 4.1) to demonstrate the model on a wider scale whilst also generating data and training of other schools (chapter 10). The research was undertaken in Region IVA of the Philippines with there are 19 school divisions and 2691 elementary schools, with 80,222 children enrolled in the school year 2016-2017. Lighthouse schools are action research sites, expected to influence the rest of the elementary schools in the region that has a total population of around 1,760,000 schoolchildren.

An example of a lighthouse school. Source

FIGURE 4.1 An example of a lighthouse school. Source: IIRR.

Three sentinel research schools in Cavite Province were selected through purposive sampling from the wider pool of lighthouse schools. It is within the sentinel research schools that fine-tuning of the model and rigorous data collection were done. Both qualitative and quantitative data were collected in the 3 sentinel schools and 55 lighthouse schools. Survey forms and questionnaires were developed and distributed to teachers at the start and end of the project to support data collection. All schools were required to undertake nutritional assessments of Kinder to Grade 6 children during the first 3 weeks of classes (June). All children enrolled in the schools were weighed and their height measured to determine their nutritional status. This data was used to verify and validate whether they still need to receive the supplementary feeding for the current year. Normally, the basis of DepEd in computing the fund allocation for supplementary feeding per school is the data on weights of children taken before school ends in March. Hence, there is a need for them to update their data during school entry to identify the true feeding beneficiaries. For the study, FNRI-DOST verified the nutritional assessments in three sentinel schools and three lighthouse schools from July to August 2016. Weight was measured using a calibrated digital double window weighing scale (SECA) recorded to the nearest 0.1 kg. Students wore light clothing, their footwear removed, and pockets emptied. Height was measured using a stadiometer (SECA) recorded to the nearest 0.1 cm.

All lighthouse schools went through a series of capacity building programmes, such as training, exchange visits, study programmes, and field-based coaching. Different types of information, education, and communication materials were developed and were given to schoolteachers. Planting materials of indigenous vegetables were produced and distributed as part of the starter kit for school gardens.

The integrated school nutrition model

Bio-intensive Gardening (BIG), characterized as a low-external input approach, was implemented to strengthen school gardens. Supplementary feeding included use of iron-fortified rice (100 g of cooked rice provides 1-2 mg iron) and chemical-free indigenous vegetables from the school gardens. To improve the consumption and acceptance of indigenous vegetables, standardized recipes of indigenous vegetables were developed and used in the feeding programme. Nutrition education was delivered via different modalities to children and caregivers to foster healthy eating habits of children both at school and at home. Different methods to link the various nutrition-related programmes were implemented, resulting in improved nutritional status of children as well as improved knowledge, attitude, and practice of both children and their parents (Figure 4.2).

 
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