Kevin Gee: Researching Health’s Impact on Learning By Charisse Ceballos (November 2013)
Few would argue that education exists in a vacuum. There are many
elements at work that impact the ability of students to learn.
Poverty, gender, and ethnicity are common factors affecting
However, one vital ingredient that is frequently overlooked is
health. UC Davis School of Education’s Assistant Professor Kevin
Gee’s research sheds much-needed light on this connection between
a student’s health and their learning abilities.
Although Gee graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in City and
Regional Planning, he turned to education while teaching English
at the university level in southern China after graduation. While
there, Gee experienced the low quality of education provided at
an orphanage where he volunteered. Since then, he began to see
education as a developmental tool and a fundamental human right.
“All kids, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic
status are entitled to improve themselves through formal or
informal education,” says Gee.
Gee’s current research focuses on the intersection of health and
education, and how health affects educational outcomes, both
domestically and globally. Schools across America have
implemented different policies to combat various health problems,
such as obesity or poor nutrition, in young students to improve
learning outcomes for all, but particularly among poor or
underrepresented youth. These policies range from measuring
students’ body mass index (BMI) and reporting it to their
parents, to food served in school cafeterias, and the use of
vending machines. Gee’s biggest research question: “Is it
“These policies have implications for how kids are treating each
other and their health. These strategies affect the environment
and dynamics of classrooms and have real educational
consequences,” says Gee.
In addition to researching health and learning, Gee conducts
large-scale quantitative evaluations of educational programs
around the globe. Most recently, he conducted a study of a
nationwide nonformal education program in Bangladesh, where many
children do not have access to formal classroom instruction. Gee
often focuses on international education issues to “give context
for what I do in the U.S. Education globally is humbling. We take
education for granted, but the educational issues faced in the
U.S. pale in comparison.”
“But behind all these numbers are kids,” says Gee, “and their
futures are at stake here.”
Gee hopes his research will foster the desire among all citizens
to think critically of education as a human right. “Education is
as basic as providing food and shelter, especially in times of
crisis,” says Gee. He also hopes to bridge the communication gap
between the health and education professions to encourage more
holistic understanding of their intersections.