The health education of the younger generations is only worth done with serenity. When the focus is not on ourselves but on others. When knowledge sharing is an euphoric experience for the recipient as one is discovering, realizing something. Aha-experiences are the greatest gifts of life which are not only taken by a lasso. Why could we not find them in education? Just think of it how more inspiring it is to draw in the community of listeners into a train of thoughts instead of directly controlling them.
All these are coming from the workflow and approach represented by Dr. András Falus, Széchenyi Award winner immunologist, full member of MTA and the leader of MTA-SE Health Promotion by Peer Education Research Group.
At Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) the Subject-Pedagogy Research Program has been initiated by president Dr. László Lovász. In early October the participating research groups have presented their results and experiences to the program-board in the half-time of the 4-year-long research program. On this occasion we have contacted the professor who had once been the director of the Department of Genetics, Cell- and immunobiology at Semmelweis University, Faculty of Medicine. During our conversation I have become very sure that those schools and associates who can become part of this ground-breaking research are truly lucky.
– According to statistics, our health indicators are well below the European average. Indicators for harmful addictions, physical inactivity, obesity and also for the low attendance of screenings are especially alarming. Starting with the realization of this current state, a change would be extremely important, as it aligns with the goals of the research group.
– The health of society of the future essentially depends on the extent youth is capable of picking up health literacy. For this reason, the success of currently running programs of health promotion has an outstanding importance. We have established the EDUVITAL Non-profit Health Educating Association and Foundation in 2012 with Mária Kopp. Our interest in each other’s works had been mutual, she was a psychologist/psychiatrist sociologist while I was a geneticist, our intellectual pathways crossed in epigenetics. By that I mean that mental effects, stress and its treatment, social relations, let it be family, school or the community at work are just as strong environmental effects like nutrition, physical activity, hygiene or the abstinence of smoking or alcoholism which shall be used to serve health education in a uniformed system. That was the genius of Mária Kopp, she was first to declare that mental activity is no different from any other epigenetic factors. This is the foundation of our movement, which spreads from kindergartens to university students. We aim to draw them into the program playfully and practicably according to the characteristics of each age groups.
All this is not realized through new but ordinary lessons, we are working with experiences and a pedagogic technique that uses a praising, rewarding feedback instead. The program of Eduvital has been completed two years ago, thanks to the subject development program in which Semmelweis University Faculty of Health Sciences and Eötvös Loránd University Faculty of Primary and Pre-School Education have worked together. These two institutions of higher education have complemented each other, one of them supports health promotion from the side of health care, while the other provides a pedagogical side.
– Even the name of the program, “TANTUdSZ” is amusing, it reflects the playfulness in acquiring knowledge.
– The name is an acronym that comes from the Hungarian words of “learn to teach, teach to know”. The focus of our activity is contemporary education, which means that the age difference between the educated and the educator is ideally small. We can witness at home that in many cases, the role of a sibling is more effective on several subjects compared to the remonstrance of parents. Let me tell you an example. Children usually hear something like this from their parents: “When will you finally understand what you should wash your hands after playing with the dog?” The same idea, however, communicated by a sibling who had done the same and heard the same cues in the near past will be more empathic. The voice of siblings on such occasions gets deeper and slower, as they are talking “more like adults”, they know by instinct that there is a responsibility in the situation while in the same time they actions are more solidary. The transfer of the same information, for some reason, becomes much more effective. This is also the essence of the TANTUdSZ program where kindergarteners get information from elementary school students, high school students get it from university students, while university students become educators of the age-group with the help of their tutors. We are doing a diverse work, hence the 35 associates who participate in the program are also coming from a variety of areas. There are healthcare educationalists, sociologists, biologists, lawyers and teachers among us. On an institutional level we are in cooperation with one kindergarten, two elementary schools and five high schools, even past the Hungarian borders. We are not doing ordinary frontal, powerpoint education, we are using a very interactive method that exploits every opportunity offered by the internet and is much more enjoyable.
– You have declared earlier that you want to teach good because as a student you used to fall asleep during the lectures. Now, that I am listening to you, I see curious, wide-eyed children in front of me.
– We truly get really good feedback on the program since everyone likes to play. Playing is one of the most important human activity and we are fulfilling this demand. With the kindergarteners who participate in the hand-hygiene program, for example, we paint together. Right after they are dipping their hands into the paint and create their masterpieces, it is only natural that they have to wash their hands. Fluorescent soap completely enchants them and with the use of a scanner they can see which part of their hands were not washed properly. This is the intellectual pun that can already be given to them during childhood.
Among our programs we also teach proper hydration with visualizing the harmful effect of certain liquids. Surely, we talk a lot about smoking, the ruining effect of energy drinks, but we talk about friendship, harassment and abuse as well. We need to pay attention to what is happening around us, with us. We all know that sinking feeling when we go to work with our stomach in spasm or when we are afraid of what mood our boss will be in. This has a disadvantageous effect on us physiologically as well, on childrens too when we don’t pay them attention correctly. There is nothing more harmful on a child’s personality when a child does something and receives scolding and negative feedback only. Today, probably the most frequent form of abuse is that we forget to give praise. I would like to draw the attention of teachers and parents on this matter.
While in the other hand, one of the most important aspects of knowledge transfer is the presentation through examples. Just look at the Bible, there are plenty of parables in it because though stories not just engaging the audience but also keeping their interest becomes easier, it is also more likely to allow the listener to understand the moral of the story on their own. It is really good to teach. I am still teaching in two universities, I can tell you by experience that there is no greater feeling when I can see that my audience thinks along with me and our ideas align in discovering the mysteries of immunology and genetics. My daughter, who is a doctor, still enjoys to recall how Prof. Dr. János Szentágothai presented the anatomy of facial muscles with his own face, mimicking, making grimaces. While he was partially making fun out of the situation, the material was understood and remember by everyone for life. As Karinthy says: “In humour I know no droll”. The health promotion of younger generations needs to be done with brightness, since a smile never focuses on oneself, it is always about the others.
– The program, which we have discussed so far, have reached its half-time. Many people tried many things for increasing health literacy but there is a wall that could not been broken yet. As I am listening to you contributing to health literacy in a bottom-up manner, this is the first time I can actually believe that it is possible.
– Our work got a faster pace in the beginning of its second year, we are under a very strict evaluation and I believe that we performed meeting expectations. The success of our research tender is reflected in national and international publications as well. Our program has been expanded with reanimation and another indicator of our success is that we no longer need to find schools to participate, right on the contrary, we get so many requests that we no longer have the capacity to fulfil all of them. More and more students would like to join the program and those who are already involved love it so much that many of them would like to keep on working in health promotion and write their dissertation on it. Even with all this we still have many tasks ahead of us. As for me, I am most proud of my students. Even though this is a four-year-long program I believe that learning, as well as tutoring for health, is a life-long work. I am very proud of my colleagues and PhD students, who are really good people, and I know that I will leave the future of this workflow in the best hands.
English translation: Aimie Fekete
Original text: Katalin Tarnóczy-Tóth