Ensuring school health
The"Schools Total Health Program", seems like the proverbial silver lining, as it takes health education to the schools in Tamil Nadu and hopes to implement it in other states too.
The future of the nation...
Much is being said about the need to tell children of the horrors of war, of deforestation, of global warming and other such issues. Yet, there is one crucial aspect to life that is pretty much ignored. What about health education? Today, we are looking at a global epidemic, HIV/AIDS. The media regularly go to town on the various diseases that seem to spread more alarmingly every year dengue fever, malaria, cholera, typhoid and more there are other problems like malnutrition, violence, substance abuse, yet little is done to meet these very real problems of great concern to all young people.
All will agree that children are the hope of the future and yet the need for educating them on total health issues is put on the backburner. That is why the programme by the Health Education and Promotion International Inc. seems like the proverbial silver lining. Called "Schools Total Health Program", the core group, who are active in ensuring the success of this programme, are Dr. Colin Yarham, an international authority on health promotion especially for children and youth, Dr. D. Kanakaraj, whose doctorate is in agriculture and community development, Manamedu Gurunathan, a poet and former headmaster, Anuja Kak, who has vast experience in community work, and Dr. Juliet Willets (environmental engineering and health).
The programme has been implemented in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, while a beginning has been made in Rajasthan and negotiations are on with Delhi and Madhya Pradesh. The success depends on the cooperation from government officials and, contrary to the general image of an apathetic bureaucracy, Dr. Yarham says, "We have received much support from the Directorate of Education and Secretary of Health. Workshops have been conducted for government officials, teachers, and health workers in all districts. They see it as real education to meet the needs of today".
Looking towards a healthier tomorrow.
What is this programme all about? The key to the whole thing is that it is relevant education on health, life skills and social development in one comprehensive package. Dr. Kanakaraj points out that the curriculum was developed by people who have to use it, in the culture of that community and in their language. The aim is to empower children on their health and that of their family and community. Children not only learn about relevant issues but are also encouraged to spread what they learn. Thus is the quality of living improved and ignorance of health issues eliminated. Such a programme cannot function by itself. It has to have the support of the school administration and the teachers. To enthuse them, workshops and refresher courses are held regularly. A "Teacher's Manual" has been compiled by teachers, headmasters, teacher educators, health workers and medical personnel and edited by Manamedu Gurunathan to make the lessons child-friendly.
According to the programme, there are five dimensions to health: Intellectual, social, spiritual, emotional and physical. Health is defined as "optimal personal fitness for full creative living". And Health Education is "the application of a wide range of learning experiences to facilitate voluntary adaptation of lifestyle to the practices of good health". The programme not only aims to increase awareness of health issues but also tries to improve the children's life skills like communicating, decision-making, problem solving, analysing, coping with stress and emotions and others.
Topics such as "Social Health" and "Responsibility and Health" are meant to help students make personal choices on aspects of their own and their community's health issues. It is the lessons on Safety, Environmental Health, Nutrition, Substance Abuse and Consumer Health that are important. Since the programme is first being implemented in government schools, this is what has attracted teachers and students alike. Dr. Kanakaraj recounts the story of a student, who after the lesson on substance abuse ensured her father quit smoking. Lessons like coping with medical emergencies and the role of the environment in health are today essential for all children, irrespective of their backgrounds.
While the topics are the same, the content differs as the student progresses from one class to another. While all this may sound dull on paper, the Teacher's Manual lists a series of the methods and strategies that can be used to involve the children in participating directly in the teaching-learning process. More important, the students are encouraged to undertake projects at home and community as part of their action oriented work. These include cartoons, charts, making scrapbooks, different theatre forms, puppets and action projects. Emphasis is placed on raising self-esteem and skills of all teachers as their enthusiasm is infectious and carries to all subjects.
As Dr. Colin emphasises, this curriculum is imperative to the health, well-being and development of the children and youth. That children are the future of our world may be a truism but it is a reality nonetheless. And it is up to us adults to give them a good future. One way is to improve their health education, living skills and quality of life.
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