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In Event: Measuring sustainability of school meals: research methods to measure sustainability at different stages of USDA Food for Education project implementation
Save the Children, in partnership with Mercy Corps and the Liberian Ministry of Education, Ministry of Agriculture, and Ministry of Health are implementing the Liberia Empowerment through Attendance and Reading (LEARN) project. This five-year project (2017 – 2022) aims to improve literacy outcomes for school age children, as well as their attentiveness and attendance by decreasing short-term hunger and improving health and dietary practices with various activities including school feeding, take-home rations, teacher training, provision of school supplies and reading materials, establishment of school gardens, and distribution of deworming medications, vitamins and minerals.
IMPAQ International is leading both impact and project evaluations of the LEARN program in four Liberian counties (Grand Bassa, Grand Gedeh, Rivercess, and River Gee) at baseline (2018), midline (2020), and endline (2022). To answer the evaluation questions and establish baseline values for key outcomes, IMPAQ conducted student surveys that included the Literacy Boost Reading Assessment (LBRA) as well as questions about water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), nutrition, gender norms, and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) knowledge and practices. The qualitative component included key informant interviews with school principals and focus groups discussions with parents and teachers.
In addition to the key outcome evaluation questions, the team sought at baseline to assess sustainability, and included the following question: “What are potential threats to program implementation and success?”
1. Finding: Many school communities have previously participated in school feeding programs which were not sustainable. Lack of sustainability or continuity from the previous school feeding program has upset parents and teachers. With no transition, schools just stopped serving food, and student attendance dropped. Understanding this emphasizes the importance of planning for sustainability in advance of program completion in 2022.
2. Finding: PTAs do not currently have the training or capacity to carry out several planned program activities. The qualitative data show that the capacity of individual PTAs varies greatly by school, with some PTAs existing in name only. As a result, Save the Children will tailor their training and capacity building activities, particularly to provide additional support for new or low-functioning PTAs.
3. Finding: Teachers and principals understand that corporal punishment is prohibited in school, but parents continue to encourage this as a way to discipline their children. Our qualitative data indicate that most parents do not understand or appreciate the need to stop corporal punishment. They continue to beat their children at home and encourage teachers to beat their children at school. Educating parents as well as teachers on positive discipline is essential to sustainability, as the current planned activity of using parents to monitor teacher corporal punishment will not be effective if parent attitudes do not change.
4. Finding: Our findings also suggest that parents and teachers blame girls, rather than teachers or older students, for SGBV. In addition to educating teachers and students of the Ministry of Education’s Code of Conduct, program activities should also focus on prevention – that is, challenging current attitudes and perceptions of why SGBV happens and who is responsible.