Education systems need to be “serious about creating a less anxious future” for children, Qatar Foundation (QF) vice-chairperson and CEO HE Sheikha Hind bint Hamad al-Thani has told the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) 2020.
The virtual summit of QF’s global health initiative saw speakers including The Countess of Wessex join HE Sheikha Hind in a session focusing on The Role of Schools in Child and Adolescent Health – examining whether health is being effectively integrated into education, and if opportunities are being missed to maximise the impact of schools on their students’ well-being.
“Mental health is a critical subject that is missing in our education systems, but I don’t believe adding it to school assignments or looking at it as a metric to improve school performance will solve the issue,” HE Sheikha Hind told the discussion. “We need to take a step back and look at health as an integral component of living a fulfilled life.
“The first step becomes identifying how schools themselves are contributing to the mental health crisis – what is the effect on children of regular exams, of bullying, of competitive sport? We should take an honest look at how we, as institutions, can help to relieve that stress, because if we are going to tackle student well-being, we need to be serious about creating a less anxious future.”
HE Sheikha Hind explained that one of the key elements of integrating health and education is teaching students “the know-how of well-being”, saying: “What are the physiological requisites that make mental well-being even possible, because half of the solution lies in asking the right questions.
“Teaching children the right vocabulary to express themselves is something that I feel is often overlooked, so we should ask how we can give children the right language to express their feelings.
“The most important thing is to know how we empower children, and empowering a child comes from giving them the adequate tools that can cater to their unique needs and allow them to grow in a safe, healthy, and nurturing environment.”
The Countess of Wessex, who is Patron of Vision 2020: The Right To Sight and Global Ambassador for the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, explained that she has seen first-hand “the effect that early intervention can have on preventing young eyes losing sight”. “In the past two decades, enormous progress has been made in ensuring children have the opportunity to learn about the importance of eyecare, and in detecting problems at an early stage so that they can be successfully treated and managed,” she said.
“In so many developing countries, there is historically a culture of acceptance that if you have an eye problem, it’s purely ‘the luck of the draw’. But if we are able to reverse that understanding through creating better awareness of treatments, the positives of wearing glasses, and ensuring the availability of affordable eye services, the effects can be profound. Teachers and schools are absolutely critical when it comes to these kinds of messages and interventions.
“The engagement of children in helping to educate each other about the importance of eyecare is beginning to turn the tide of understanding that eye issues can be treated, that glasses are good, that eyes are precious, and that poor eyesight or diseased eyes should not be ignored and accepted as fate. And we need governments to understand that education and health, when they work together, are a winning combination.”
The session also welcomed Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organisation’s Regional Director for Africa; Justin Van Fleet, president of global children’s charity Theirworld; and Professor Russell Viner, a Professor in Adolescent Health at University College London, who said: “The key is a new vision for education that recognises it is not just about producing productive workers and wealth, but also about producing health, happiness, and well-being.
“Schools must be engines of health as well as wealth – they already are, to some extent, but we need to tinker with how they operate to promote health in a more basic sense. We must look to build an education system with health threaded through it, so we produce young people who are healthier and have greater well-being.”
WISH is dedicated to capturing and disseminating the best evidence-based ideas and practices in healthcare, with the goal of creating a healthier world through global collaboration. The virtual WISH 2020, held under the theme One World Our Health, has featured more than 100 sessions and 300 global speakers focusing on how to address the world’s most pressing health challenges.