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Making every school a health-promoting school in Kenya

UNESCO, in collaboration with the Ministries of Health and Education, is leading the adaptation of WHO's global health-promoting schools' guidelines in Kenya, with the goal of making every school a health-promoting school. The final adaptation workshop took place in Machakos County from 18 to 22 June 2023, and brought together key stakeholders working on promoting health and well-being in schools.

The workshop aimed to achieve several key objectives, including the institutionalization of policies and interventions that promote health and well-being in schools, creating safe and inclusive environments for learners, and addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education and student well-being. Themes addressed included mental health support, nutrition and school feeding programs, access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities, and the involvement of non-teaching staff in promoting student well-being.

Learners and students deserve an enabling environment that supports their educational potential and overall health and well-being. However, the emergence of COVID-19 resulted in school closures, disrupting education, causing the loss of school meals for millions of learners, and significantly increased rates of stress, anxiety, and mental health issues.

Emerging data also indicates a rise in early and forced marriage, teenage pregnancy, child labor, and domestic violence during this period. As we navigate the post-pandemic period, it is crucial to reflect on and address the institutional policies, interventions, and resources needed to promote health and well-being in all aspects of school life, ensuring safety and inclusivity for the broader community.

Our school serves a diverse student population, including those with special needs. Located in the heart of Nairobi, our learners face unique challenges such as exposure to sex work in the surrounding Kilimani area, low adherence to HIV treatment among individuals within the school community, and issues of drug abuse and sexual and gender-based violence. These challenges are compounded by our greatest challenge, which is food security, as learners must pay for their meal. There is a need to strengthen the school feeding component of the health promoting schools’ guidelines. Lucy Hilda Apondi from Kilimani Integrated Primary and Junior Secondary School, Nairobi County

The adaptation of global health-promoting schools' guidelines in three pilot schools has showcased the potential for creating a health-promoting environment for all learners. Positive outcomes include improved access to clean drinking water and enhanced health and hygiene practices, the establishment of school health clubs that promote ownership and accountability, and the recognition of diverse challenges faced by schools serving special needs learners. The need to strengthen the school feeding component and address issues related to drug abuse, sexual and gender-based violence, and HIV treatment adherence were also identified.

The establishment of the school health clubs and inclusion of non-teaching staff members in these clubs has increased ownership and accountability for the well-being of learners in our school. This practice has presented greater ownership and commitment to the positive life outcomes of our learners. Njoroge Caesar, Head Teacher from Gititu mixed day, in boarding school in Murang’a County.

This initiative is part of The Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future Programme (O3), which is currently being implemented in Kenya. The project aims to empower adolescents and young people to develop the skills, knowledge, and attitudes they need to prevent HIV infections, reduce early and unintended pregnancies, and eliminate gender-based violence, as well as create enabling policy and community environments for attainment of highest potential and educational outcomes.

To make every school a health-promoting school a reality, Kenya, with support from UNESCO and WHO, has adapted the Global Standards and Indicators for Health Promoting Schools through a consultative process involving key personnel from the education and health sectors. The results from the three pilot schools are promising and exciting, demonstrating that making every school a health-promoting school is indeed achievable in practice.

We have succeeded in drafting proposals to different partners and have since secured a partner who has drilled a borehole in our school. This has ensured access to clean drinking water and improved health and hygiene among our learners and larger school community. Jonathan K. Kotemu Head Teacher Isinya Day and boarding primary school, Kajiado County

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