Education-Health Alignment Provides Opportunity
Early next month representatives from a wide variety of global health, education and UN organizations will meet to discuss issues of integrating disciplines such as health and social sustainability into schools as a way to leverage the strengths of programs in each separately to create a stronger and systemic whole.
Early next month representatives from a wide variety of global health, education and UN organizations will meet to discuss issues of integrating disciplines such as health and social sustainability into schools as a way to leverage the strengths of programs in each separately to create a stronger and systemic whole. In fact, the concept of the Whole Child, developed by Education International partner ASCD in 2007, is familiar to practitioners in every profession focused on young people.
As ASCD says, Whole Child is “an effort to change the conversation about education from a focus on narrowly defined academic achievement to one that promotes the long term development and success of children.”
Educators have long recognized the importance of healthy students and communities in student success. The link is obvious. Numerous studies have shown that health problems affecting teachers and learners lead to absenteeism, low academic performance, school dropout and a general undermining of the quality of education.
With 30 million affiliate member educators in 172 nations, Education International believes strongly in the role of teachers and education support professionals and their unions in developing a systematic approach to health issues.
For many years, EI affiliates in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean worked together in the EFAIDS programme (Education for All/AIDS), combining two essential elements in EI’s work: advocacy for Education for All (EFA) – where teachers and their unions work to ensure that children get free access to quality public education and the fight against HIV and AIDS – where teachers gain the knowledge and skills they need to help protect themselves, their colleagues and their students from HIV infection and AIDS.
With the EFAIDS programme, teachers did more than engage in HIV prevention through the school. They took concrete measures to reduce stigma and discrimination, advocated for and provided testing, treatment, care and support to those affect by HIV, making substantive contributions to the national discourse on health.
Last year, EI became a signatory to the Global School Health Statement, which said, in part, “Health and social policies, must be adapted, crafted, and integrated into the policies, processes, and practices of education systems. In short, health must find its cultural anchor within the education system.”
The fundamental proposition of the statement is neither simple nor timid, but it’s exactly the sort of bold thinking we need as the world discusses how sustainable development goals like education for all, eradication of hunger and child mortality and true gender equality can be realized. Sectoral integration in some form is sensible enough to be inevitable and it should be led by advocates, not by accountants and investors.
Some of this work has been well underway via an International Discussion Group that is publishing summaries & blog-based commentaries, and organising webinars and other web-based discussions of several topics.
From June 1 through June 3, EI and ASCD in cooperation with the education program of UNESCO and the International School Health Network will take the discussion to the next level. While previous discussions focused largely on programmatic matters, organizers have structured an agenda that invites a broader conversation about systems.
This is where it gets even more interesting. For example, we all know the daily diaries of professionals in education and health are beyond full of tasks, assignments, appointments and wishes. How would strategies of alignment be designed in a coordinated way, so as not to simply add more work in critically understaffed areas?
And this - what are the elements of the policy dialogue with governments, NGOs and the private sector to support the systems? Alignment in these sectors challenges structures beyond classroom and clinic. What about the political systems, donor channels, and collaborative work with advocacy organizations and businesses?
As with any significant change, disrupting the divisions in critical sectors like education and health could open exciting new opportunities – for the children and families we serve more than anyone else.