“Health” as a subject in school
French, Math and Biology are standard subjects in school, but in Finland and Ireland they added something extra. In those countries “Health” is also a standard subject. Students even have to take exams for it. Finnish professor Lasse Kannas is dedicated to making “Health” a subject in all European countries. During the conference “Building the Future of Health” he stated “Starting with a healthy life can’t be done early enough”.
Kannas tells about the legislation in Finland. 10 years ago the government approved a law which stated that every high school needs to teach the subject “Health” to their students. They are being taught by university schooled teachers and have to take official exams. They not only learn what health means, but also develop health literacy skills like critical thinking, problem solving and self-management skills. Those skills help students to gather and understand information about health and teach them how to take decisions regarding their own health.
“Health” is popular
The “Health” lessons are very popular with students and teachers according to Kannas. It’s one of the few subjects students talk about further with their parents when they are at home. In the first years of high school the subject is mandatory, after that it’s elective. Although it becomes elective at a certain point, students are very enthusiastic about it and keep choosing the subject. This is a good indication of how successful the classes are and how essential they are to teach.
“Health” as a subject in school proves to be very successful. It’s too early to say that the next Finnish generation will grow up more healthy then the current. But there is hope, because they are being taught about health from a very early stage in their life. They learn the skills they need to grow old in an active and healthy manner. This is very important because we grow older and older, and healthcare cost are exploding because of that.
Inequality starting at birth
In the Dutch school system “Health” doesn’t have its own place, but is incorporated in other subjects, projects or classes. Kannas says that this leads to nobody feeling responsible for good quality health education. This makes that the topic isn’t taken serious. Also teachers don’t have formal training, so aren’t qualified to teach the class.
That is why parents are still the main character in a child’s life sharing information about what is healthy and what is not. Consequently children with parents that have an unhealthy lifestyle have a disadvantage regarding health from the day they are born.
“Kansen voor Kinderen”
The UMCG started a project that is targeted at reducing healthinequalitys. They are doing this with the project “Kansen voor Kinderen” (Translated as: Opportunities for Children). The focus of the project is reinforcing health literacy skills of children in primary schools. These skills are for example critical thinking, creative thinking, problem solving skills etc.) The project is also focussed at reinforcing skills of teachers. They are given materials and support to keep teaching health literacy skills to their students. Parents are also actively involved in the project. Parent involvement is a key point of the program.
The project is a collaboration of different partners from the North of the Netherlands, from different fields (nature, culture and sports) that relate to the health literacy skills that need to be built. They agree with Kannas when he says that you can’t start early enough with providing good quality health education. That is an ingredient of a healthy and happy life.
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