AT the National Seminar on Strengthening Health Promoting School held in Nay Pyi Taw yesterday, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi delivered a speech that brings the positives of social studies, sexual and physical education to light while impelling a greater need for participation from the school faculties and student’s communities.
The motto for the seminar was “Physically and Mentally Fit Youth for The Brighter Future” and took place in Myanmar International Convention Centre II.
The two-day national seminar is organized by the Ministry of Education and inistry of Health and Sports and will focus on methods for dissuading students from bad habits and promoting healthy lifestyle choices, said the State Counsellor.
She said this encompasses ensuring schools and universities are free of drugs, no one uses cigarettes, tobacco or quid, combating alcoholism and its negative consequences, lowering traffic accidents, reducing excessive electronic gaming among students, encouraging habits for healthy living, and including reproductive health in school teaching.
The State Counsellor expressed hope that everyone responsible for practically implementing the results of this seminar, especially the education ministry, will carry out their tasks with dedication.
She said the nationwide census in 2014 shows there are 14.4 million teenagers under 15 in the whole country and 9 million citizens between the ages of 15 and 24. This accounts for 46.5 per cent of Myanmar’s population. She said the estimates for this year is roughly the same with 15.06 million under 15 and 9.41 million between 15 and 24, accounting for 45 per cent of the national population.
The 20% demographic
Surveys in 2018 show there were 9,144,469 students in the 47,005 basic education schools throughout Myanmar and 1,527 monastic schools across the nation provided education to 309,938 students, said the State Counsellor.
She said these students and those from private schools made up 20 per cent of the nationwide population.
Furthermore, there is also a sizable student population in public and private universities.
The State Counsellor said these high numbers point out how much of an impact the younger generation will have on the country’s future. She said they will require a safe and healthy learning environment that promotes wholesome living so that they
can access a bright and fulfilling future.
The State Counsellor said the Ministry of Education is responsible for implementing healthcare, security and development in youths while the Ministry of
Health and Sports is tasked with providing technological support and medical services. She called on related ministries, international organizations, NGOs, civil society organizations, and ethnic organizations to cooperate as well.
Physical & mental hurdles
According to the 2016 Myanmar Global School Health Survey (GSHS), malnutrition rates for teens between the ages of 13 to 17 are as high as 18 per cent while 10 per cent have obesity, said the State Counsellor. She said the 2017 Myanmar Micronutrient and Food Consumption Survey show that 18.8 per cent of teens between the ages of 15 and 19 are underweight while 5.2 per centare overweight.
She also said only one in ten teenagers undertake at least an hour of physical activity per day, which the World Health Organization states is a minimal requirement for healthy living. In addition, one in ten teenagers feels isolated from their peers.
When you compare the 2007 GSHS with the 2016 GSHS you will see that less and less time is being given for physical activities while one in six person is increasing
their screen time, said the State Counsellor.
She said within the ten year period from 2007 to 2016, smoking has risen from 2 to 6.6 per cent, chewing tobacco from 3.6 to 8 per cent, and alcohol consumption from 1.4 to 4.3 per cent, adding that half of it is consumed by children under 14 years of age.
Health promotion system
The State Counsellor said the Ministry of Health and Sports has been following WHO’s Health Promoting School Framework since 1996 to promote healthy lifestyle choices among the students, their peers and families. These activities include healthcare awareness campaigns, cleaning the school campus and promoting personal hygiene, disease prevention, nutritional programmes and food safety, school health security, physical education programmes, aiding healthy transition from school life to adulthood, providing social support and counselling, and conducting training and research initiatives.
The State Counsellor said while the aforementioned activities are undertaken in schools across the nation, data from the 2018 Health Management Information System show that only 42 per cent are truly implementing the higher healthcare tasks.
The State Counsellor said effective methods for imparting general health knowledge in students is through the school health security programmes, systematic teaching of social studies, and from their friends and social media.
Developing social skills, awareness in the classroom
Social studies is an important lesson for students who spend most of their time within school buildings and the subject, having been taught since 1998, has been added as a main subject beginning from the 2017-2018 academic year, said the State Counsellor.
She said the context of the subject consists social skills, environment and sanitation, disease prevention and nutrition, sexual and reproductive health and rights, HIV/AIDS, drug use, and emotional intelligence. Furthermore, the curriculum is designed to deliver knowledge-based and skill-based lessons to students to develop their communication, thinking and emotional capacity.
However, the State Counsellor pointed out that social studies is still not well received due to constraints in capable staff and teaching aid, and a lack of interest from teachers and parents.
Taboo on sex ed must give way
The State Counsellor then talked about comprehensive sexuality education. She said that it is a rights-based and gender-focused approach to sexuality education that is taught with age-appropriate information consistent with the evolving capacities of young people.She explained that it incorporates discussions on family life, relationships, value, rights, culture, gender roles, discrimination and abuse, self-care, human anatomy, development and reproductive health. She said these programmes help young people develop self-esteem and life skills that encourage critical thinking and enables them to make decisions that do not undermine their happiness or of others.
If we observe carefully, health promoting school activities are cost-effective and cover a wide demographic while effectively supporting student learning and attendance, said the State Counsellor.
She reiterated that the success of these programmes is not the sole responsibly of the union ministries but requires active, resolute participation from educators, parents and the students themselves.
Commitment to rules still frail
The State Counsellor said the Youth Policy was released in 2017 and drafts for relevant strategies are underway. She said we need to ensure no one gets left behind and strive for the inclusivity of all youths, regardless of whether they are living with disabilities, in remote areas or outside of schools.
The State Counsellor said there needs to be greater adherence to the rule of law to instill peace and stability across the nation. She brought attention to the weak enforcement of the updated 2016 Control of Smoking and Consumption of Tobacco Products Law, which forbids the use and sales of tobacco products inside school and university campuses, within 100 feet of these institutions, and to persons under the age of majority.
The State Counsellor said teaching strategies for teens need to be engaging and effective, as they are more attuned to new and innovative technology. She said we need to carefully consider having teens participate in research surveys which concern their age group and organize sustainable tasks for them.
Best efforts despite insufficient resources
The State Counsellor said more focus should also be placed on physical education as it develops physical wellbeing, reduces addiction to electronic games, and fosters cooperation, teamwork and sportsmanship. She said the majority of the public think only the health and sports ministry is responsible for school healthcare
assignments when in reality it is also the duty of the teachers, parents and students to promote it as well. The State Counsellor acknowledged that the Ministry of Health and Sports does not have enough human resources, finance and equipment to provide the full benefits and services it needs to. She also highlighted the need for the Ministry of Education to appoint healthcare experts in schools for ensuring the programmes are effectively implemented.
The State Counsellor said there is a lot of room left for enacting comprehensive national policies that safeguards the health and safety of students and youths, who are the priceless human resources of Myanmar. She ended her speech by urging the
two ministries to work hand in hand in realizing the ethos of the seminar’s motto: “Physically and Mentally Fit Youth for The Brighter Future”.
Afterwards the State Counsellor took a group documentary photo with everyone in attendance. Next, the State Counsellor viewed the exhibitions related to promoting healthcare in schools on display.
The seminar was attended by the following persons:
Union Ministers U Min Thu, Thura U Aung Ko, Dr. Aung Thu, Dr. Myo Thein Gyi, Dr. Myint Htwe, U Soe Win and Dr. Win Myat Aye, deputy ministers, Hluttaw representatives, members of the Nay Pyi Taw Council, state/regional ministers for social affairs, facilitators for the panel discussions, ministerial permanent secretaries and departmental heads, experts attending to give lectures, officials from international organizations, representatives of student unions, and students from basic education schools in Nay Pyi Taw. —MNA