01.07.2013 Health for schools – schools for health
Lead article. According to the National Health Report 2008, education is one of the most important socio-economic determinants of health. People with a high level of education generally behave in a healthier way, feel healthier and have a longer life expectancy than sectors of the population with little education. Conversely, healthy pupils have been shown to learn more easily and to retain what they have learnt for a longer time. There is therefore an interactive relationship between education and health.
The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) has been active in the field of education & health for about 20 years. Its original goal was primarily to improve pupils' health literacy. However, a school is not just the place where health literacy can be taught and acquired. In terms of personal development, it is also an important learning environment that has a direct impact on the health of both
pupils and teaching staff.
It's not just about "teaching health"
The school as a life setting is exposed to a wide range of social, economic and political influences. Any modern, school-based attempt to promote health has to engage with these influences. It is not just a question of "teaching the pupils about health". It is about school infrastructure, playground design, meals provided, further training of staff, working conditions, space for social contact and strategies for resolving the social problems that inevitably occur when hundreds of children use a defined space. All these factors can help a school be more than just a place where health can be taught; they can also transform it into a healthy school.
This is the backdrop against which the FOPH has increasingly shifted the focus of its commitment. If the emphasis had previously been on behavioural prevention geared to the pupils, nowadays it is primarily about coordinating the numerous healthcare-sector stakeholders, whether experts or representatives of the authorities, who approach the schools with health-related concerns. The overriding goal is to explore and utilise the potential of the school setting to promote health, while also protecting it against inflated expectations regarding its health-promoting and preventive effect.
With this goal in mind, the FOPH has focused its commitment to developing healthy schools on the following organisations:
– Swiss education and health network bildung + gesundheit Netzwerk Schweiz (b + g).
– Swiss Network of Health-Promoting Schools (SNHPS)
– éducation21, specialist agency for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
Swiss education and health network bildung + gesundheit Netzwerk Schweiz
This network is an amalgam of organisations active in the field of health promotion and prevention in schools, from pre-school to senior secondary level (see box). In this context, the FOPH supports the development of measures and projects at both the didactic-pedagogical level (e.g. assessments of teaching material) and the systemic level (e.g. devising school-development tools). At the network meetings and in the thematic working groups, participants strive to bring the special concerns of health promotion goals into line with the system-relevant characteristics and current reforms of the school sector.The aim is to help schools perform their task as health-promoting institutions without subjecting them to undue pressures. Advice, thematic input (specific projects within the schools) and the provision of information and tools are key. Last year, for instance, the b + g network produced the publication entitled "Gesundheitsförderung in Tagesstrukturen für 4- bis 12-jährige Kinder" [“Health promotion in day structures for 4–12 year olds"]. The brochure aims to raise awareness in schools that have not yet addressed the issue of health promotion and to show them that, in health promotion, modest efforts can achieve a great deal. This year, another b + g working group will publish a report on the health of teaching staff – a topic of growing importance.
Swiss Network of Health-Promoting Schools (SNHPS)
The SNHPS exists since 2003 and was developed by the Radix foundation on behalf of the FOPH and by Health Promotion Switzerland. The objective of the network is to institutionalise health promotion in schools (see infograph). The SNHPS now covers 17 cantons and seeks to motivate and support schools so that they perceive themselves as health-promoting institutions and learn from one another by exchanging experience. Over the years, this approach has proved effective in combining structural prevention with school development in an ideal manner.
Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
ESD is a global UN drive on education. The Swiss government has incorporated this initiative into its Strategy on Sustainable Development, and the Confederation and cantons coordinate the related activities through the Swiss Coordination Conference on Education for Sustainable Development (SK BNE). The éducation21 Foundation, a specialist agency for sustainable development, is an example of such activities. It was developed in close collaboration between the Confederation (FOPH/Federal Office of Public Health, FOEN/Federal Office for the Environment and SDC/Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation) and the cantons (EDK/Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education), and came on-stream on 1 January 2013. As a national competence centre, it operates at the nationwide, language-region, cantonal and school levels. It provides teachers, school management and other stakeholders with educationally tried-and-tested teaching material, guidance, advice and financial aid for school and class projects. In the training field, it cooperates with teacher-training colleges and other training and continuing education institutions for teachers. Its mandate in this context is to integrate health, along with other topics such as political education, human rights and economics, into its activities.
Bringing all stakeholders on board
While these activities will undoubtedly help develop health-promoting schools, they are only the first steps on the road to a healthy school system. However, the school system is not a monolith; it is driven by the diversity of its stakeholders – cantons, municipalities, schools, school management, teachers and, of course, pupils – all groups that can have very different needs. For health to be sustainably integrated into this complex system, a participatory and sometimes laborious approach is essential. Moreover, because education is a cantonal responsibility, the Confederation can only offer supportive services. However, if schools can be persuaded that an engagement with health-related issues offers added value, then the Confederation can help ensure not only health for schools but also schools for health. From this viewpoint, the title of the current issue of spectra should also be understood as an appeal, given that there is still a great deal of work to be done, particularly on a cooperative basis, if health is to be integrated into schools.
The Swiss education and health network "b + g"
... is an amalgam of organisations that swap knowledge, desire to learn from others' experience and work together to further the cause of health promotion in schools. The member organisations of b + g gear their work to the principles of the Ottawa Charter: participation, empowerment to exercise more control over life choices, aligning of health services to available resources, sustainability and equality of opportunity with regard to gender and social, ethnic and religious affiliation.
The members of b + g currently include:
– BASPO [Federal Office for Sport]: www.baspo.admin.ch
– Swiss Council for Accident Prevention (bfu), www.bfu.ch
– Forum per la promozione della salute nella scuola
[Forum for the promotion of health in schools], www.ti.ch/forumsalutescuola
– Interessengemeinschaft Hauswirtschaft an den Pädagogischen Hochschulen (IGHWPH) [Interest group for the teaching of home economics in teacher-training colleges], www.ighwph.ch
– Kompetenzzentrum Ressourcen plus an der FHNW ["Resources plus" competence centre at FHNW/University of Applied Sciences of Northwestern Switzerland], www.fhnw.ch/sozialearbeit/isage/ressourcenplus-r
– Sex Education, www.amorix.ch
– Kompetenzzentrum Schulklima an der PHZ ["School Climate" competence centre at PHZ], – Kompetenzzentrum Schulklima an der PHZ, http://www.phlu.ch/weiterbildung/zentrum-gesundheitsfoerderung/kompetenzzentrum-schulklima/
– Radix [Swiss health foundation], www.gesunde-schulen.ch
– Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Ernährung [Swiss Society for Nutrition], www.sge-ssn.ch
– Sucht Schweiz [Swiss anti-addiction foundation], www.suchtschweiz.ch
Contact for all «Schools for health» articles: Dagmar Costantini, Head of "bildung + gesundheit Netzwerk Schweiz", firstname.lastname@example.org
Markus Jann, Head of Section, email@example.com