Jose Roberto Guevara comments on the article “How Adult Education can save your life”
The Front-line of Health Literacy: Our Health Professionals as Educators
Jose Roberto Guevara is Associate Professor, International Development, RMIT University, Australia
The article identifies several sites of adult learning for health literacy. As expected, the focus will be the adult and community population themselves, who as the article has identified would greatly benefit from not just ‘reactive’ learning, when they are already ill, but more from ‘preventative’ learning. However, this seems to be more difficult to achieve, mainly due to the recognition that what motivates adult learning is often as a response to an identified issue or problem.
I can relate to this as this is the same experience I have from my own work in environmental education and education for sustainable development. Often the motivation to learn is when the problem has become evident. And sometimes I wonder, if it might almost be too late.
Take for example, understanding the link between pollution and solid waste management or the 5R’s of waste management – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, re-purpose and Recycle. Not until we are confronted by flooding caused by blocked canals and rivers, did we react and ban plastic bags. Not until we are shown images of birds dying from ingesting plastics or penguins caught in plastic rings, did we begin to look for alternatives. There is now a growing recognition that solid waste management must be addressed at all levels and from all points along the lifecycle of a product – from design, manufacturing, distribution, utilisation and recycling. And yet, we have not fully succeeded in stopping the use of single-use plastic bags from our shops and markets. Hence the on-going and urgent need for education for sustainable development.
I would argue that the same is true for health literacy. We should continue to conduct health education, across the entire spectrum from learning about prevention to reactive learning. Similarly, it needs to embrace learning that is appropriate across different ages, across formal and non-formal education settings, and across different contexts, such as at home or at work. While there will continue to be the need for mass education campaigns, similar to the awareness, prevention and management of HIV, malaria or dengue, we should be alert to every opportunity available for learning about our health and well-being.
As the article has clearly identified, parents have a responsibility of inculcating good health and well-being practice in their children. Simple actions, like appreciating the importance of hand-washing, have proven to be successful in reducing the spread of certain diseases. But how do we ensure that parents have the necessary knowledge?
This is where I would encourage that health professionals recognise that they are potentially our strongest resource in adult and community learning. These health professionals should not merely provide information when there is already illness in the family, but they also need to be at the forefront of health literacy. Therefore, they need to be provided opportunities to better understand health communication and non-formal education approaches, because their qualifications and status give them credibility with the population to speak about health. I am aware that in some countries health care professionals are provided opportunities to learn how to improve their health communication and education practice, as they are our front-line health educators.
As adult community educators, we need to work more closely with our health professionals, to assist them in understanding basic adult and community learning principles. We need to expand their expectation that learning will happen in a structured and formal environment, like a classroom. We need to help them recognise that every contact with individuals, whether speaking to someone who is sick, chatting with a parent who accompanies an ill child to a clinic or even someone buying medication from a pharmacy, is a learning opportunity.
Links to the AED 85/2018 publication in three languages:English, French, Spanish
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