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International Studies Highlight Link Between Hunger And Lower Educational Achievement

There is compelling international evidence linking hunger in schools in Aotearoa New Zealand to lower educational achievement according to public health researchers.

In the second Briefing in a three-part series from the Public Health Communication Centre, public health researcher Dr Pippa McKelvie-Sebileau and co-authors examine the data from three large international assessments.

Dr McKelvie-Sebileau says the Government should be using the evidence from these studies with specific NZ data to inform its decisions about the future of the Ka Ora, Ka Ako Healthy School Lunch Programme.

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) measures achievement for Year 5 and Year 9 students in these subjects. “The data shows over the 60 countries, NZ has one of the highest gaps in achievement between those coming to school hungry and those that aren’t,” says Dr McKelvie-Sebileau.

“The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) measuring reading literacy of Year 5 students across the world across 58 countries, provides a similar image of declining achievement over categories of increasing hunger,” she says.

The researchers also looked further into the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results that revealed students in NZ who go hungry due to lack of money, even just once a week, were two to four years behind in their achievement scores compared to students who never go hungry. “The PISA results show that for Māori students, the impact is even more severe with 23.5 % missing meals at least once a week (compared to 14% overall), and 9.5% missing meals every day compared to 6.5% overall.”

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Dr Pippa McKelvie-Sebileau says the Government needs to look to these international large-scale assessments for a reliable exploration of the relationship between hunger and direct and comparable measures of achievement across countries. “For Māori, who make up 50% of the students receiving Ka Ora, Ka Ako, low overall achievement is further exacerbated by high rates of hunger.”

“From our own evaluations, the evidence is clear that Ka Ora, Ka Ako alleviates hunger, and less hunger improves school achievement.”

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