Improving Schools: The Integration of Health and Education
Earlier this year, KnowledgeWorks, a social enterprise in the field of education, released its latest glimpse into the future of learning: Forecast 3.0 (PDF). Among other key points, the report stated that schools in the not-so-distant future will play the role of community learning hub and be required to become centers of resilience. These learning centers will still serve students educationally—more often acting as a center or gateway to various forms of learning—but they are also required to become "critical sites for promoting health, well-being, academic growth, environmental vitality, and connections across their communities."
This is similar to, and very much in line with, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) 2001 report What Schools for the Future and the "re-schooling scenarios" from its Centre for Educational Research and Innovation. These scenarios posited that schools in the future will likely be combinations of core social centers and focused learning environments that address the health, education, and social needs of youth and serve as a hub for the community.
ASCD has made the case for meshing these sectors for several years now under the umbrella of focusing on the whole child—not just because it's better for the health and well-being of the child, but because it's better for teaching and learning:
"We call on communities—educators, parents, businesses, health and social service providers, arts professionals, recreation leaders, and policymakers at all levels—to forge a new compact with our young people to ensure their whole and healthy development. We ask communities to redefine learning to focus on the whole person. We ask schools and communities to lay aside perennial battles for resources and instead align those resources in support of the whole child."
"Health and well-being have, for too long, been put in a silo—both logistically and philosophically—apart from school and education. Rarely has health been included in or required to be an integral part of the school's educational process. But when it has, the results have been surprising. Schools that work purposefully toward enhancing the mental, social, emotional, and physical health of both their staff and students frequently report the results that principals and administrators want to hear."
In his Best Health Promotion Practice Award acceptance speech at the 21st International Union for Health Promotion and Education Conference in Thailand last month, ASCD Executive Director and CEO Dr. Gene R. Carter summed it up:
"Health and education are related. They are interrelated. They are symbiotic. Boosting one boosts the other. There is a connection between the two sectors. When one fails so does the other. When one succeeds that success feeds the other. We do not just have an isolated duty to want the child to be healthy and educated—we have a moral imperative. Each of us that works with children must see our roles as carers, as nurturers, as teachers in supporting the whole child."
Prior to this conference, more than 60 of the world's leading school health, education, and health promotion experts met for two-and-a-half days to discuss how the health and education sectors can be better aligned. What came out of this discussion, convened by ASCD and the International School Health Network (ISHN), was a realization that alignment should not be the goal. Side-by-side separation is still separation. For these sectors to truly work together, they need to be (as suggested in the KnowledgeWorks and OECD reports and by Dr. Carter) integrated.
We see integration at the individual school site level, whether it be through our own Vision in Action award-winning schools or the many coordinated school health and health-promoting schools' sites, however, we rarely see it across the city, district, state, or regional level. Systems have been structured to keep the sectors separate. We are calling for policies that require integration. Not for education's sake and not for health's sake, but for each child's sake.
Over the coming months ASCD in collaboration with ISHN will be developing a statement outlining the need for health and education integration. The statement aims to be the forerunner to a movement to integrate both sectors and to adjust, craft, and develop systems policies to suit and aid this integration. The statement will then be discussed, adapted, and signed onto at a series of global symposia.
Sean Slade is director of Whole Child Programs at ASCD. The Whole Child Initiative is part of a broad, multiyear plan to shift public dialogue about education from an academic focus to a whole child approach that encompasses all factors required for successful student outcomes, enhancing learning by addressing each student's social, emotional, physical, and academic needs through the shared contributions of schools, families, communities, and policymakers.
During his more than two decades in education, Slade has written extensively on topics related to the whole child and health and well-being (PDF) and has been at the forefront of promoting and using school climate, connectedness, resilience, and youth development data for school improvement. He has been a teacher, head of department, education researcher, senior education officer, project manager, and director. He has taught, trained, and directed education initiatives in Australia, Italy, Venezuela, the United Kingdom, and the United States.