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 education.
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 working?”
“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.