With more children than ever in school, these institutions are an efficient way to reach young people and their families. In the last five years alone, the number of children enrolled in primary school in developing countries has jumped by some 50 million.
There is substantial evidence to show that education has a profound effect on the reproductive health of young people. An extra year of schooling for girls reduces fertility rates by 5-10 percent. Young women who are in school generally delay marriage and childbearing, which enables them to develop their decision-making and negotiating skills, self-esteem and economic earning potential.
Introducing reproductive health programs at schools can have added benefits. At relatively low cost, these programs can help prevent early pregnancy, HIV/AIDS and STDs. School staff can also refer students to local health or counseling services when appropriate. By providing reproductive health programs early, it is possible to encourage the formation of healthy sexual attitudes and practices. This is easier than changing well-established unhealthy habit later. Finally, many of the elements needed to build school-based programs already exist. Some countries have ongoing school health programs that can be expanded to include reproductive health.