Health education is an important strategic tool to inculcate healthy behaviour and to prevent health risks. The scope of health education in school may encompass various key components.

CPR training: Teaching students first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is relevant in the context of increasing incidences of out of hospital sudden cardiac arrest. A timely CPR from a bystander can increase the chance of survival of victims considerably. Mandatory CPR training in schools will impart a life skill capable of saving millions of lives.

Lessons on healthy lifestyle, nutrition and exercise: The 5th Round of National Family Health Survey 2019-21 reveals growing risk of lifestyle diseases in India like diabetics and hypertension. NFHS data indicates increase in national level obesity rates, rising from 21 per cent to 24 per cent among women and from 19 per cent to 23 per cent among men between 2015-16 and 2019-21. Health education can significantly impact reduction in lifestyle and chronic diseases by enabling students to make informed choices.

Awareness against drug abuse: Prevalence and use of drugs among youth is an alarming issue. Around 13 per cent of people involved in drug and substance abuse in India are less than 20 years. Health education in schools can help in educating students on the ill-effects of substance abuse and instil a behavioural inclination to refrain from using drugs.

Mental health and well-being: Mental health education encompasses understanding of the social, emotional, psychological well-being of an individual. Skills on improving mental well-being such as meditation, mindfulness training, yoga, etc., can be a part of school curriculum. This will help in enhancing emotional intelligence and social skills of students.

Awareness on antimicrobial resistance: AMR refers to a condition in which bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms transform over time and cease to respond to antibiotics, making infections difficult to cure. Misuse and overuse of antibiotics, inadequate infection prevention in hospitals, lack of awareness are some factors contributing to AMR. Health education will sensitise students against the phenomena of AMR.

Age-appropriate sex education: Apart from securing children against misinformation, sex education will also help in breaking certain social taboos and in combatting sexual abuse and gender discrimination.

While the relevance of health education in school curriculum is huge, it entails many challenges. Ensuring adequate availability of professionally qualified trainers and funding is a concern. Instructor’s skills and teaching tools are vital in providing quality health education. Mandatory health education should find place in teacher training curriculum as well. Government of India’s successful initiative of massive open online courses via Swayam Nptel platform can be leveraged for provision of health education.

Devising a sound syllabus for health education with quality content and effective mode of delivery is crucial. Assessment strategies, reflecting student’s learnings is equally important. Apart from that, success of health education in schools also depends on providing awareness to parents as well.

A carefully designed and delivered health education in schools can go a long way in addressing multiple public health challenges effectively.

Reshma is Assistant Director, NITI Aayog, and Surjith is Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Finance. Views are personal