About 28.25 per cent of India’s population is under 14 years of age. Among children, the learning process begins immediately after birth. In fact, before a child turns six, 85 percent of cumulative brain development takes place. It only shows the importance of appropriate care and stimulation of the brain in the child’s early years. The educational sector plays a vital role in promoting the development of children and providing them with a healthy future.
However, a recent study of urban schools found that a large number of kids suffer from health issues such as high BMI, vision loss, ENT problems and poor hygiene. With a growing population of 192 million children of school-going age, ensuring students’ health will stand to benefit nearly a fifth of India’s population.
School administrations across the country have come under increasing scrutiny to ensure that pupils are not burdened with studies at the cost of their health. The collaboration between health and education sectors has been instrumental in creating broad parameters for health-related school policies; creating a supportive school environment; and impacting behaviour among the school children.
The focus on health in school children covers a broad range of issues pertaining to mental health, gender health and nutrition.
Mental health: Mental health among the student community is a growing concern. According to reports, almost 50 million children in India are affected by some mental health conditions. However, the afflicted students are discouraged from seeking help for treatment due to the stigma attached to mental health issues. It is important to educate parents and children about such conditions, thereby raising awareness and bringing about positive change.
Gender health: Gender health remains a key issue too, but it continues to receive little attention. According to a UN health report, girl children in India are likely to be more affected by infectious diseases than their male counterparts. This is compounded by the fact that anaemia, measles, under-nutrition, overweight and obesity continue to challenge the health of school-age children.
Nutrition: In recent years, school health and nutrition programmes have become particularly notable in the public sphere. It is well documented that nutrition plays a very significant role in learning, especially in the early years; however, too many of our children simply do not receive the nutrition necessary to enable learning. Hunger and malnutrition indeed prevent the children from being able to pay proper attention in school; for many students, the midday meal provided in school is the only meal that they eat.
The above focus areas require a more holistic approach to healthcare that balances wellness, prevention and cure. To ensure quality learning in school and a healthy future for students, schools must develop capacities among students that promote wellness; for instance, good health, psycho-social well-being, and sound ethical grounding. In the past year, concrete steps have been initiated to ensure all-round development and well-being of school children across the country. In fact, many schools are starting to introduce the following into school education curriculum:
- Physical education, wellness, and sports to help improve a child’s muscular and cardiovascular strength, flexibility, endurance, motor skills, and mind-body connection and wellness.
- Basic health and safety training to introduce a child to preventative health, mental health, nutrition, personal and public hygiene.
- Socio-emotional learning to ensure that a child has improved cognitive and emotional resilience and to promote constructive social engagement.
- Counselling sessions to help students on a range of issues from career guidance to mental health, including stress and mood disorders.
Recently, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) introduced a health and physical education programme for students of higher classes. The aim of such an initiative was the holistic development of the students, ensuring their all-round development and well-being. CBSE also came out with another directive asking its 19,300-odd affiliated schools to maintain the health records of all students in all classes.
The schools have been tasked with verifying students’ health and immunization records, including details about their immunity levels and allergies. Some of the other pointers factored in the CBSE directive include steps to check nutrition deficiency and obesity. Another recent development worthy of note was AIIMS stepping in with a slew of programmes focussed on students’ lifestyle and mental health, covering a range of issues from exposure to social media and the Internet, to the development of self-esteem and self-respect.
Given the growing importance for student health records, schools and parents should consider using applications that help in storing, verifying, validating, and sharing of secured personal health records. Digitization of health records can help in consolidating all important data of a student’s health onto a single platform and in creating an effective student profile.
By having all the medical records on a single platform, parents and healthcare staff can holistically track their child’s development and identify proactive measures to address health issues.
For the students too, taking care of one’s health is an important life skill that has to be inculcated. With lifestyle diseases affecting most of the students, it is important to educate the students and their parents that these diseases are preventable and treatable. School is the place where children spend a substantial part of their day. It is important that schools provide a positive and nurturing environment for children to take care of themselves.
(Disclaimer: The writer is Dhiraj Sharma, Founder vCura. Views expressed are a personal opinion.)