Regional conference on health education held in Minsk: the experience of EECA countries

More than 80 specialists in the field of education, healthcare and youth work met in Minsk on May 28-29 at the international conference “HIV and Healthy Lifestyle Education in Educational Settings”. The experts came together to discuss the diversity of work forms on HIV prevention, health awareness and life skills through the system of formal and non-formal education in EECA countries.

The conference was organized by the Belarusian Association of UNESCO Clubs (BELAU) together with the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Belarus and the UNESCO IITE with the support of the National Commission of the Republic of Belarus for UNESCO. Among the participants there were representatives of education and health authorities, educational and public organizations from Belarus, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, the Republic of Moldova, Russia, Romania, Ukraine and Estonia, as well as specialists from the UNESCO IITE, UNFPA, UNICEF, the European and North American Federation of UNESCO Clubs, Centers and Associations.

Natalya Zhukova, Deputy Minister of Health of the Republic of Belarus, Tatiana Simanovskaya, Head of the Department of Youth Affairs of the Ministry of Education, Olga Atroshchenko, UNFPA Representative in Belarus and Dr. Rashed Mustafa, Representative of UNICEF in Belarus, spoke at the conference opening. The speakers underlined the importance of developing health education networks in the countries of the region and encouraged cooperation and exchange of experience between countries and organizations to achieve common goals.

The opening was followed by thematic sessions. The first presentation was made by a group of young volunteers from the Belarusian national network Y-peer, who spoke about their educational needs on the topic of healthy lifestyle. Young people confirmed that the school does not deliver enough opportunities to learn about health and life skills. Moreover, some important topics, such as reproductive health, are sometimes not addressed at all. Volunteers also mentioned issues like healthy eating and exercise, STIs and HIV prevention, interpersonal skills, psychological well-being and mental health and countering various forms of violence. Then the representative of UNFPA – Alexander Davydenko shared the main provisions and topics of the “International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education”, created by UNESCO and UNFPA in collaboration with other UN agencies. The first session was closed by Tigran Yepoyan, UNESCO Regional Adviser on Health Education, speaking about approaches to health education, international best practice and the specifics of this issue in the EECA region.

Further, the conference agenda turned to the experience of introducing health education in specific countries of the region. Specialists from Belarus, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine and Estonia spoke about local practices of promoting health education and raising awareness of sexual and reproductive health among the youth. The experts discussed the place of health education in the school system, teacher training, lesson monitoring and measuring pupils’ knowledge before and after conducting health education classes. The development of teaching and learning materials for health education classes and their relevance to modern realities and the needs of teachers and students was identified as another pressing issue.

One more goal of the event was to summarize and present the results of the joint humanitarian cooperation project of BELAU and UNESCO IITE to improve the skills of health educators and foster healthy living culture among schoolchildren of the Republic of Belarus. As a result of this project, more than two hundred teachers from seven regions of Belarus received relevant knowledge and skills for running health education lessons.

For me it is a great joy that the joint humanitarian cooperation project in Belarus took place and we were able to introduce a course on health education into the teacher training system. […] This is a wonderful course – 10 simple lessons about the most important things. We are inspired by the fact that it is not just a dry theory, but a lively conversation, honest and engaging, which will help to make safe decisions, – commented Tigran Yepoyan, UNESCO Regional Adviser on Health Education.

Within the session “Educational environment: the potential of modern media for health education promotion”, took place a discussion on how to use digital environment to popularize health education among younger generation. Maria Medvedchikova, UNESCO IITE Project Coordinator, spoke about the possible formats of interaction with adolescents through online tools: social networks, mobile applications and chat bots. A recent example – the youth online media called “DVOR” created with the support of the UNESCO IITE. The media outlet brought together more than 10,000 subscribers in less than three months. Vitaliy Nikanovich, an expert on non-formal education, presented digital tools for teachers and parents. He also introduced online courses on tackling bullying, life skills training, HIV prevention and effective communication with teenagers, developed with the support of UNESCO IITE and available on the free platform EDU-HUB.

The result of the international conference “HIV and Healthy Lifestyle Education in Educational Settings” was a quality dialogue among experts from different countries of the EECA region about approaches to health education, an unbiased analysis of the advantages and difficulties of promoting health education among teenagers, the exchange of effective practices and willingness to test and implement new joint projects.