A pill a day for Chinese future

Marina Lemle

Marina Lemle
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net

One iron pill a day may lead to better school results and greater opportunities in life, heard the 7th IAP conference on Science for Poverty Eradication and Sustainable Development, held in Rio de Janeiro this week (24-27 February).

http://www.reapchina.org/The iron deficiency that affect one  third of the Chinese children who live in poor rural areas and lowers their concentration and capacity to study is not the only problem these kids face in their school life, but it might be one of the easiest to solve.

After taking 5 mg of iron a day from November 2008 to May 2009, rates of iron deficiency in students from 30 schools in Shaanxi Province were significantly reduced, while their mathematics tests results improved, in comparison to the control group of students from other 30 schools in the same region who did not take the daily vitamins.

The four-year research conducted by Linxiu Zhang and colleagues led to the launching, in October 30, 2011, of a new nutrition programme which provides US$2.5 billion per year to benefit 680 poor Western China counties for 10 years.

“With evidence-based results, we made our voice heard at the national level,” says Zang, professor at the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. She told the audience that when researchers provided these results to policymakers, Ministry of Education said it was a Health System’s problem. On the other hand, the Ministry of Health said: “Tell us how to solve te problem in a effective and cost efficient way”; whcih the researchers did it and the policy was implemented.

Zhang argues that China will need quality labour forces and adequate human capital to make the necessary transformations in order to develop itself and grow like South Korea, where wages rates are much higher. “It’s important to remember that today’s children are tomorrow’s workers and professionals.”

Higher education is the greatest gap in China’s education: in large cities, 70% of the students go to college, but in in rural areas less than 5% reach this level, and school-aged children in these areas represent 35% of the total. The drop out rate during grades 7, 8 and 9 of junior high schools is 38% in poor rural China. According to the researcher, the problems of underperformance start way before middle school at China’s underserved rural and migrant areas. Another problem, according to Zhang is that 20% of more than 30,000 children between 10 to 12 years old tested in Gansu and Shaanxi Provinces were shortsighted, but only 1 or 2% wore eyeglasses.

“Leaders in China need to realize that to overcome today’s human capital gap and tomorrow’s inequality gap the price tag is high, but feasible”, says Zhang. “Investing into science and technology innovation is necessary but not sufficient. We need to pay equal attention to address the missing link between research and policy.” For more information on the Rural Education Action Project (Reap) access www.reapchina.org or read the paper Nutrition and Educational Performance in Rural China’s Elementary Schools: Results of a Randomized Control Trial in Shaanxi Province.

This blog post is part of our coverage of 2013 Global Network of Science Academies (IAP) conference which takes place 24-26 February 2013, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. To read further news and analysis please visit our website.

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