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Better education for better health

By Taylor Deacon-King

Children in the doorway of their home in Rajasthan, India. © Kim Landy

Ksussew, Hansraj and Kavita in the doorway of their home in Rajasthan, India. Their mother Santosh took out a small loan to grow their family business, increasing their income so that they could afford to go to school. © Kim Landy

Education increases a child’s access to opportunities throughout life. We at Opportunity see how education provides children with literacy and numeracy skills, skills that minimise a child’s vulnerability to poverty by offering them a pathway towards higher paying, more secure jobs, with better working conditions.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also see education as a core component of poverty alleviation. The goal is to: “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. However, a less obvious but equally important outcome of education is better health.

Access to education has documented positive effects on health knowledge and lifestyle choices, providing children with the knowledge, skills, and direction to make decisions and understand what is required to sustain good heath, how to identify health risks, advocate for health needs and communicate with health professionals throughout their lives. This is gained through both health education but also in the skills gained throughout the schooling experience: critical thinking, resourcefulness, problem-solving, adaptability, oral and written communication.

Education also impacts a child’s personal emotional, cognitive, physical and behavioural development which translate to economic, social and psychological assets that contribute to good health and wellbeing.


Access to education provides children with the opportunity to develop their sense of resilience, agency (autonomy), self-regulation and action-taking with regards to managing physical and mental health. Children with resilience are good at problem solving, have a sense of purpose, and possess good social skills. Due to the ability to bounce back from setbacks and better manage stress, they may be less likely to experience the negative health outcomes associated with chronic stress (both physical and psychological) and avoid risk-taking coping mechanisms, such as drug and alcohol abuse.

"Educating girls can literally save millions of lives."

The development of a child’s ability to make their own choices (agency) contributes to positive health outcomes throughout their life. As an example, 93 per cent of women with 12+ years of education used a skill provider for antenatal care during pregnancy compared to only 61 per cent of women who received zero education. Similarly, 95 per cent of women with 12+ years of education had an institutional delivery compared to only 62 per cent of women who received zero education1.

Education for girls is particularly important. According to UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring Report, “Educating girls can literally save millions of lives”. Data from the report showed that child mortality would decline by one-sixth if women in poor countries completed primary education and would halve if women received secondary education.


Education provides children with the information and skills to assist them in making good lifestyle choices. Those choices include diet and nutrition, exercise, alcohol consumption and tobacco and drug use. Included in the 10 leading risk factors causing death across low-income and middle-income countries reported by The World Health Organization (WHO), are tobacco and alcohol use, physical inactivity, low fruit and vegetable intake, obesity, and poor hygiene.

The skills acquired through education—such as literacy, writing and communication—can have positive effects on income, which increases financial resilience during ill-health. Adoption of preventative healthcare services and behaviours can reduce the costs of health care treatment for easily preventable diseases and the respective reduced household income as people cease productive work and pay to be treated. Finally, education contributes to promoting healthy lifestyle choices and positive decisions that support emotional, behavioural and cognitive development, which in turn effects our social relationships and quality of life.

1.  2015–2016 National Family Health Survey in India  

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many schools to close in order to save lives. According to UNESCO, 186 countries have put nationwide school closures in place, affecting 1.2 billion children.

During this time, families in poverty are also struggling to meet their daily needs - food, shelter and healthcare. Opportunity is working closely with our program partners to understand their needs and provide support where possible. 

Learn more about our response to COVID-19

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