What is the importance of health education in school?

A well-rounded school setting has different aspects. In an organised atmosphere, students learn a lot that is taught to them by their teachers. This well-organised atmosphere is not only required for studies, but also for other activities, like development of personality, character and discipline. Mutual understanding, tolerance, sympathy, helping others and other human values develop in a good climate.

In general, with non-communicable diseases on the rise, eating healthy and exercising is crucial. 

Many children these days are on a fast food diet. But raising children on fast food has nothing but negatives, experts say. They learn bad eating habits and end up being overweight. So, without good healthy role models, how are children supposed to develop good eating habits? With education, that’s how. The importance of learning proper health and exercise is crucial for today’s society.

The promotion of healthy diets and physical activity in school is essential to fight the childhood obesity epidemic. Net photo.

So, just like it is with other subjects, education experts believe that hearty health education will help motivate learners to improve and maintain their health in general.

Through this, learners will make healthy choices throughout their lifetime.

Understanding health education

Health education is any combination of learning experiences designed to help individuals and communities improve their health, by increasing their knowledge or influencing their attitudes.

It can also be defined as the principle by which individuals and groups of people learn to behave in a manner conducive to the promotion, maintenance, or restoration of health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defined health education as consciously constructed opportunities for learning involving some form of communication designed to improve health literacy—including improving knowledge, and developing life skills which are conducive to individual and community health.

Ronald Wandira, the head of the humanities department at Riviera High School and year leader—advanced level—at Rwanda Education Board (REB), says adequate stimulation and nutrition are essential for brain development during the first three years of life and early childhood development (ECD) services can make children more socially and emotionally healthy.

He says international economists have ranked such services as one of the most highly effective social and economic investments a government can make.

Parents are also in a unique position to influence the health of their children.

Wandira notes that parents set the stage for health behaviour, provide reinforcement for such conduct, and serve as emotional supports in the behavioural change process.

In an intervention, Wandira says parents can serve three major roles: provide support, serve as role models, and set limits.

“Parents should play their role when it comes to the promotion of healthy diets and regular, adequate physical activity, which are major factors in fighting the childhood obesity epidemic,” he observes.

Wandira explains that this should be done by making healthy foods and beverages at home and providing, supporting and encouraging opportunities for physical activity, which helps influence their children’s behaviour. 

“Parents are advised to live and promote a healthy lifestyle because children’s behaviour is often shaped by observation and adaptation,” he adds.

With more learners than ever in school, Wandira says institutions are an efficient way to reach young people and their families.

There is substantial evidence to show that education has a profound effect on the reproductive health of young people.

In 2011, the WASH project – funded by

UNICEF and the Governments of the Netherlands and Rwanda indicated that about 55 per cent of Rwanda’s population didn’t maintain proper sanitation. The initiative aimed at providing 800,000 people with access to safe water by 2013.  

Young girls in school generally delay marriage and childbearing, which enables them to develop decision-making and critical-thinking skills, self-esteem and economic growth potential.

He says introducing reproductive health programmes in schools can have added benefits. These programmes can help prevent early pregnancy and STDs, including HIV/AIDS.

“School staff can also refer students to local health centres or counselling services when appropriate. By providing reproductive health programmes early, it is possible to encourage the formation of healthy sexual attitudes and practices,” Wandira adds.

This is easier than trying to change well-established unhealthy habits later.

Diana Nawatti, the head teacher at Mother Mary Complex School in Kibagabaga, Kigali, says many of the elements needed to build school-based programmes already exist.

In fact, she says, some countries have ongoing school health programmes that can be expanded to include reproductive health.

“The promotion of healthy diets and physical activity in school is essential to fight the childhood obesity epidemic,” she says.

She adds that because children and adolescents spend a significant time of their young lives in school, the school environment is an ideal setting to acquire knowledge and skills about healthy choices and to increase physical activity levels.

Why health education?

Educators believe that health education is of great importance.

Aime Prince Lionel Murara, the deputy national coordinator in charge of operations and partnership in Education for Nations and Humanitarian Africa (ENHA), says without good health, it is hard to make steps ahead.

For this reason, he says, the validity of studies related to health education is found to be important as it holds all forms of advancement in learners.

Since health education basically deals with physical, mental, emotional, and social health, he says it’s vital for parents, teachers and students to realise its benefits.

“It’s common to find out that grownups also lack an extended awareness in terms of health aspects, such as a balanced diet, sports, cleanliness, rest, and other fields regarding health sustainability,” he says.

He says the outcomes from the poor enhancement of health education are mostly viewed in terms of diseases, high death rates, school dropouts, unemployment, and other negative impacts considered a hindrance to sustainable development.

Murara adds that concrete measures are, therefore, very important in strengthening the fundamental efficiency and appreciation of health studies, especially in rural areas.

He, however, notes that health maintenance, prevention of diseases, avoidance of risks, are all considered as good examples of the benefits of encouraging health studies among students.

In addition, it is very easy to make good health choices, especially if started at a younger age, he says.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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