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FEATURE STORY

Caribbean: Equipping youth with life skills for a brighter future

October 22, 2013

Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) classes help students make better life decisions

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • How to secure a brighter future for the next generation is a critical debate at an international level.
  • In the Caribbean, the youth face a multitude of health, lifestyle and societal risks which threaten their and their country's future development.
  • A new syllabus, Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) has been developed to help the youth achieve their full potential.

 

What can be done to secure a brighter future for today’s youth? That’s one of the questions representatives and organisations from across the world will be debating this week at the Youth Summit.

In the Caribbean, high levels of HIV/AIDS prevalence, crime, violence, teenage pregnancy and unemployment are threatening the future of the region’s youth.

What’s more, despite significant advances in extending primary and secondary education, there is a worry that an intense focus on core subjects such as English, Mathematics and Science are failing students later in life. More specifically, they are not being sufficiently equipped with the life skills to make personal and social decisions outside of the classroom which could most affect their future.

"We want that when [our children] are pressured negatively that they can use coping skills, that they can use resiliency skills, that they can communicate their feelings," explains Guidance Counselor Margaret Grant (Barbados). "If you have a child that is just a bookworm, who’s getting all As but they don’t know how to deal with someone who is putting drugs at them, what do you have? A failure."

Learning life skills

One way to combat this is a new curriculum that has been developed to help young people across the Caribbean learn key life skills. Now available in all CARICOM countries,  Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) classes providing students with support and training in four core areas:

  • Sexuality and Sexual Health
  • Self and Interpersonal Relationships
  • Managing the Environment (social, psychosocial, psychological, physical, cyberspace, economic)
  • Appropriate Eating and Fitness.

And it’s a syllabus which is already reaping the rewards with schools where the class has been incorporated into the curriculum, already making progress in reducing combating social problems among their student body. Balcombe Drive Primary and Junior High School is one such example. The school sits on the boundary between rival drugs gangs in St Andrew, Jamaica and has been teaching life skill classes to all grades for 14 years.

 

"[The school] sits on 4 lines of demarcation with gang warfare," explains the school’s HFLE teacher, Loretta Sewell Drummond. "Yet to date, in 14 years, we have only lost one student to gangs. [...] This school can boast that after 14 years we have had no critical incidents and a huge portion of it is because of this HFLE programme."

But despite these successes, regionally there is limited appreciation of the value of the classes within the education sector. Consequently, classes are often not timetabled, timetabled but not taught or taught by untrained teachers.

Open Quotes

This school can boast that after 14 years we have had no critical incidents and a huge portion of it is because of this HFLE programme. Close Quotes

Loretta Sewell Drummond
HFLE teacher, Balcombe Drive Primary and Junior High School

Improving HFLE teaching

So what can be done to convince teaching staff of the class' value? That was the challenge set to educators from 14 CARICOM countries along with representatives from the IDB, World Bank and UN at a meeting in Washington recently. The hope is that when they return to their respective countries, these ambassadors will promote the new syllabus to encourage more schools to add it to their timetable.

Along with success stories like Balcombe Drive, this video has also been produced to succinctly demonstrate the power that HFLE has to help at risk youth to make wise life choices.

HFLE has the power to change attitudes amongst the youth towards risky behaviour and consequently can help lessen the effects of unhealthy lifestyles which are established during childhood and adolescence. This is vital to generate opportunities for the Caribbean’s youth and put the region on the right path to shared prosperity.