School Health Coordinators from 17 Sub-Saharan Africa Ministries of Education (including 13 West African member states) gathered in Bamako, Mali this spring to participate in an annual technical workshop on School Health and Nutrition. Other participants present at the workshop included representatives from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the East African Community (EAC), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), World Food Programme (WFP), Partnership for Child Development (PCD), World Health Organization (WHO/AFRO), UNAIDS and UNESCO-BREDA.

One of the key issues of this year’s workshop was to pilot the Systems Assessment and Benchmarking for Education Results (SABER) program for School Health and School Feeding. The SABER program is a key tool in the new World Bank Education Strategy for countries to assess how their programs are meeting the education needs of their school children, and to identify actions to address any gaps. This approach is also based on the Africa Region Strategy, specifically by addressing resilience and vulnerability, and by using a partnership approach to support national and regional responses.

The purpose of this pilot exercise was for the countries to understand the framework, discuss whether the framework was user-friendly, and provide useful feedback to further simplify the process. The participants worked in country teams and each team was asked to complete templates for both School Health and School Feeding. The completed forms were then analyzed and presented during a plenary session.

Results from the pilot exercise so far found the following:
  • Most countries have activities in both in School Health and School Feeding. There is considerable variation in the coverage and quality of the programs, but it was notable that there were several high quality examples of good practice for the region.

  • There was a strong feedback that the framework approach helped identify the strengths and challenges of the national programs. It also provided clear examples of good practice, and therefore indicated the goals for those areas where further work was necessary.

  • The SABER-School Health program used the FRESH framework​ as its guiding principle to address four main areas. Countries had achieved greatest progress in the area of National Policy, followed by Health Education and Health Service Delivery. Providing a Safe and Supportive Environment at school remains the major challenge.

  • The SABER-School Feeding framework uses five standards identified in a recent joint analysis. Here, Policy was the challenging area and most countries depended on external partners, especially the WFP, for implementation.

Participants identified key areas of challenge in their own countries, and developed plans to improve their programs. The focal points are now working on implementing these plans in their respective countries and, in some instances, countries have requested technical assistance in rethinking their School Health and School Feeding programs. The School Health and Nutrition team revised the SABER framework and incorporated the recommendations and feedback received from the country representatives. The team is also planning to conduct further exercises in East & Southern African countries later this year.

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Article by Fahma Nur and Andy Tembon, World Bank