What UNESCO does on Health and Well-Being Education

The UNESCO Strategy on Education for Health and Well-Being has two strategic priorities:

  • To ensure that all children and young people benefit from good quality, comprehensive sexuality education that includes HIV education
  • To ensure that all children and young people have access to safe, inclusive, health-promoting learning environments

HIV and Sexuality Education

Comprehensive sexuality education, of which HIV is a core component, is central to:

  • Preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted infections
  • Promoting awareness of HIV testing, knowing one’s status, and treatment
  • Strengthening puberty education
  • Preventing early and unintended pregnancy
  • Developing attitudes, values and skills for health and respectful relationships
  • Promoting gender equality

A review of sexuality education around the world in 2015 can be downloaded here. The UN International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education can be found here – and more information on UNESCO’s work in HIV and Sexuality Education can be found here.

Early and unintended pregnancy

Early and unintended pregnancy (EUP) is a major concern in many countries. The right to health, education, dignity and gender equality are at the heart of this issue – especially for girls and young women.

For an adolescent girl (10–19 years old), experiencing pregnancy while still at school often means facing harsh social sanctions and difficult choices that have life-long consequences. It could mean expulsion from home and school, being stigmatised by family, community members and peers, increased vulnerability to violence, and greater economic hardship. For adolescent boys, becoming a father very early in life can also lead to school drop-out and reduced life opportunities.

Following a global consultation on early and unintended pregnancy in November 2014, UNESCO is developing an evidence review and recommendations for education sectors to respond to early and unintended pregnancy. The report will highlight the determinants and consequences of early and unintended pregnancy, reveal the current status of education sector responses, and provide guidance for the education sector to tackle the issue.

Puberty Education

Puberty education, as a part of a broader comprehensive sexuality programme, ensures that both male and female learners have the knowledge and information they need to transition to adulthood.

Puberty is a time of change for all young people, and is particularly challenging for girls who are often unprepared for changes in their body.

This has negative effects on physical and emotional development, leading to a drop in self-esteem and poor performance at school. Often the lack of adequate toilet facilities at school, combined with fear and embarrassment, contribute to young people disengaging from education at this crucial time in their lives.

UNESCO’s publication Puberty Education and Menstrual Hygiene Management provides clear recommendations to education sectors on what is required to:

  • Remove the stigma associated with menstruation
  • Enable girls to fully realize their right to education, becoming fully empowered women

FRESH partnership

A growing body of evidence reveals the close relationship between health, physical and cognitive development, school participation and academic achievement.

Focusing Resources on Effective School Health (FRESH) is an intersectoral partnership that highlights the importance of school health for the achievement of the Millennium Development and Education for All goals and provides the context for developing effective school health programmes. The Partnership is comprised of UN agencies, donor organizations and global non-governmental/ civil society organizations concerned with promoting basic education, health, safety, equity and sustainable development through education.

FRESH recommends four programme pillars as the basis for school health responses:

  • Equitable school health policies
  • Safe learning environment
  • Skills-based education, and
  • School-based health and nutrition services.

Substance Use Prevention Education

Substance use, including use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs, is associated with a wide range of negative impacts on young people’s mental and physical health as well as on their well-being over the short and long term. Substance use has also proven to be linked with a number of negative education-related consequences, including poor school engagement and performance, and school drop-out.

UNESCO supports a comprehensive education sector response to substance use, which comprises:

  • Education sector policy and strategy frameworks
  • National and subnational curricula
  • Training and support for educational personnel
  • Evidence-based responses at school level
  • Appropriate school health services
  • Effective management of the education sector response

In 2017, UNESCO, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) released the joint publication Good Policy and Practice in Health Education: Education sector responses to the use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs. This publication provides the context and rationale for improved education sector responses to substance use, presents evidence-based and promising policies and practice, and suggests issues to consider in sustaining and scaling up effective responses. The publication is the result of an international consultation process involving extensive global, regional and country-based literature reviews and an international experts meeting.