21.01.2020 Gearing projects to schools’ needs

There is now a large number of services that focus on health promotion and prevention in schools. To be successful and viable in the long term, these services need to be geared to the different syllabuses in each language region and to schools’ needs.

Pictures Gearing projects to schools’ needs

TODO CHRISTIAN
Education has a significant impact on health in terms of living conditions (e. g. profession), lifestyle and health literacy. And better health leads to longer life expectancy.

Pictures Gearing projects to schools’ needs

TODO CHRISTIAN

Education has a significant impact on health in terms of living conditions (e. g. profession), lifestyle and health literacy. And better health leads to longer life expectancy.

Pictures

Education is a major influencer of health. People who only have a mandatory school-leaving qualification have significantly poorer health in old age and can expect to live for five years less than people with a university or college degree. People who have no mandatory school-leaving qualification – who even today account for almost ten percent of 25-year-olds in Switzerland – have the worst prospects of all. They are at significant risk of ending up in poorly paid, precarious employment or even becoming unemployed, which has a negative impact on health.

This illustrates just how crucial it is for students to receive a good education and to learn at school how they can acquire new knowledge and skills for themselves outside the school setting. This will have a positive impact on their health when they become adults. Mandatory schooling is the only time when we can reach (almost) all children and young people. Although health is not a separate teaching subject in itself, it does crop up in many other subjects. Lehrplan 21, the new joint curriculum for public schools in German-speaking Switzerland, has this to say on the subject of sustainable development: “Health comprises human physical, mental and social wellbeing. Students will progressively learn to assume responsibility for their health and wellbeing.” Applying the principle of cross-subject issues, the various aspects have been incorporated into each subject syllabus, particularly the “Nature, Humans and Society” syllabus.

According to an analysis by the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW), Lehrplan 21 contains over 700 health-related competencies. Schools will be addressing diet, exercise, mental health, social media, sexuality and issues related to addiction or violence. During their school career, students will learn to resolve conflicts, search for information on the Internet, understand and categorise that information and use it to make decisions. By doing so, they will improve their health literacy. They will learn to assess health-related risks or identify the risk of accidents. In short, education reinforces health-promoting behaviour.

However, it is also important that students associate exercise with positive experiences in PE classes and in their leisure time. This increases the likelihood of them continuing to exercise in later life, which in turn reduces the risk of them becoming overweight. A current study by the Robert Koch Institute reveals the links between education, income and health. In Germany, just eleven percent of children from high-income families do not do any kind of sport. The equivalent figure for children from low-income families is 28 percent.

Education and health are a pairing that have a lasting as well as a strong effect. The things that students learn at school often stay with them all their lives. The beneficial or detrimental habits they acquire there often persist into old age.

Switzerland now has a wide range of health promotion and prevention services that aim to make schools health-promoting. There are a large number of stakeholders and projects. Headteachers, who are often responsible for health promotion and prevention, respond well to advice and training in the topics and are interested in engaging with them. However, obtaining an overview of the various services on offer is often less than straightforward. Quality varies, and the real-life effectiveness of certain programmes has not been sufficiently demonstrated or evaluated.
The important thing here is to gear these services to the curriculum. What needs do teaching staff have? What are students’ needs? What goals are prescribed in the national syllabuses? Services that are not geared to this framework will not be sustainable. Particularly when things get stressful and schools are short of time, there is a risk that health promotion and prevention projects that are not precisely tailored to schools’ needs will be the first to fall by the wayside. So what can be done? This is where the guidelines and services provided by the cantonal agencies can be helpful by giving schools guidance and information on which projects work and how.

The FOPH has been involved in health promotion and prevention in schools for over 20 years. It is also one of the sponsors of the Swiss education and health network bildung+gesundheit. This nationwide network is committed to implementing health promotion and prevention activities in the school environment and to ensuring that the various stakeholders coordinate and cooperate with each other. Other topics that may be relevant in the school setting, depending on circumstances, are alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and sexual health. 

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Dagmar Costantini
Public Health Section

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