It is in every country’s interest to equip citizens with information to promote their health. This would enable them to meaningfully participate in nation building. But frequent reports of disease outbreaks could imply that the anticipated objectives of health and nutrition education have not yet been realised.
Early last year, at least 100 people were diagnosed with chikungunya in Mombasa. More recently, hundreds of students in a number of counties were diagnosed with cholera. Interestingly, cholera is one of the easiest diseases to control. And, in the month of June, this year, a suspected Ebola case caused a big scare in the country. The need therefore, to educate the public on these diseases is imperative.
Granted, schools act as one of the most convenient avenues for the provision of health and nutrition education. It is worthwhile to note that many schools nowadays run projects or programmes meant to enhance both their health and nutritional requirements.
Indeed, sound health, nutrition and a safe learning environment significantly contribute towards realisation of a child’s full potential. For parents or guardians therefore, one of the grounds upon which to determine whether or not a school is child-friendly has to do with the extent to which it addresses the health and nutritional needs.
Compared to the 8-4-4 system of education, the new 2-6-6-3 curriculum lays greater emphasis on health and nutrition. Particularly, the latter has specific levels of learning, content, objectives and subjects to be involved.
This approach, as stipulated in the Basic Education Curriculum Framework 2017, is meant to realise one of our national goals of education; promoting positive attitudes towards good health and environmental protection.
Furthermore, health education is identified as one of the six broad areas considered to be pertinent and contemporary in the framework. It entails preventive health, lifestyle diseases, personal hygiene, HIV/Aids education, common communicable and chronic diseases as well as alcohol and drug abuse prevention.
Health generally refers to the state of total physical, mental and social fitness. This definition therefore, dispels the notion that health is basically the absence of disease. On the other hand, nutrition refers to the science that seeks to explain the role of food as well as nutrients in the body. This is in as far as the aspects of growth, development as well as maintenance of life are concerned.
Proper nutrition is crucial in order to boost the learning potential of children, thereby maximising returns on investment in their education. Malnutrition affects a child’s degree of alertness, motivation, control, aptitude and overall performance. Malnourished children are known to be absent from school and repeat classes more often. Given this scenario, it is imperative that stakeholders double their efforts in supplementing learners’ meals so as to sufficiently meet their nutritional needs.
Learners are expected to practice hygiene, nutrition, sanitation, safety skills to promote health and wellbeing during the early years of education, that is, two and three years of pre-primary and lower primary, respectively. To realise this objective, environmental, hygiene and nutrition activities are taught as subjects.
Overall, learners are expected to be equipped with basic knowledge, skills and attitudes that foster healthy lifestyles among themselves. In addition to being involved in practical activities to promote healthy feeding, learners also cover such topics as oral and dental health, immunisation and deworming.
More critically, experts urge that children be advised to actively participate in all aspects of the school health programmes as opposed to being mere beneficiaries. They also argue that the most ideal means to help the children adopt appropriate healthy lifestyles is to involve the key actors; parents and the community, to practice what they learn, especially about health and nutrition.
At the level of the middle school education, which involves three years each in upper primary and lower secondary, learners are supposed to practice hygiene, appropriate sanitation and nutrition to promote health. To this end, home science, physical and health education subjects are to be offered.
According to the new curriculum, the aim of physical education is to help the learner to gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes concerning sports, games, physical fitness and the related health issues. On the other hand, health education focuses on promoting healthy living practices as well as prevention of diseases and disorders.
As a multi-disciplinary subject, home science is designed to expose learners to basic knowledge, skills and attitudes with regard to planning, preparing and cooking healthy foods to avoid and manage various illnesses. Also covered is First Aid, good grooming and managing adolescence, among other crucial areas.
More importantly, home science at this cycle of learning plays the role of strengthening the base for not only the development of higher competencies in the subject, but also in health education. And, at the level of senior school education, learners are expected to apply and promote healthcare strategies in daily life.
To attain the anticipated goals, both the National School Health Policy (2009) and the Basic Education Curriculum Framework require that health education embraces the constructivist theory of learning. The theory holds, among others, that children learn better when they are given opportunities to discover research and explore phenomena.
One way of creating awareness about health and nutrition involves sharing ideas as well as examples of what a health and nutrition promoting - school environment is, what it does and offers not only to the learners but teachers, families and community as well. Also, assessing the school’s health and nutrition services is necessary since it assists in formulating plans of action geared towards improving the relevant programmes.
Dr Nyatuka, is the Chairman, Department of Educational Foundations, Kisii University