Health in schools: What parents should look for

As parents we obviously want the best for our children: the best life, the best environment, the best school. As they are what is most precious to us, we are scared to death of them catching a disease or facing a chronic illness such as diabetes or cancer. Thus, we put our maximum efforts into providing our kids a healthy lifestyle and environment. When choosing a school, parents would obviously be seeking for a high standard curriculum, they would make sure the teaching and learning methods applied will ensure children to thrive and equip them with skills to deal with their future adult professional and social environment. But what should parents look for in terms of health when choosing a school? As the World Health Organization defines health as “state of complete physical and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,” much more than hygiene is to be looked at in the structure where our children spend most of their time. This state of well-being, i.e. health, is attained if a child’s basic needs are fulfilled. Health is a global sense of all needs fulfilled at best. See Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

health in schools

Choosing the best school will go with the process of fulfilling Basic Needs approach:

  • Air & light: Is the school located in a polluted area, how is the air quality? Kids allergic to pollen might be suffering in a too green and tree planted environment and some children with asthma might be bothered by a high traffic road in the surrounding area producing exhaust gas. Natural light is an important factor for a seamless learning environment and classrooms should be equipped with windows accessing an open view if possible.
  • Water: Does the school have clean drinkable water and enough water dispensers available for kids to refill their bottles?
  • Food: How is the canteen not only in terms of hygiene, but also regarding menus available that should be balanced, healthy and diverse.

health in schools

  • Shelter: School buildings should be to the security norms and make sure paints used on walls are not loaded with heavy metals or toxic, as children will be breathing in this closed environment for a few hours! Temperature is also something to consider as there should not be excessive use of air conditioning nor fans moving hot air or super-heated indoors.
  • Sanitation: Global cleanliness is to be considered and it might be worth visiting school’s toilets- that will give quite an accurate idea about a school’s overall hygiene and cleaning culture.
  • Rest: A school with a dedicated area for children to take a quite break in a relaxing and calm environment, equipped with bean bags and floor cushions, is certainly a sign that it is taking kids’ comfort very seriously as a relaxed child will perform better with recharged batteries.
  • Safety needs: School security is a very important requirement as it should have clear boundaries with a fence and a system in place to allow only authorized people to enter. Children must have the feeling that they are safe in their school environment and that if they have any concerns, they have an identified person they can go to. Thus, the presence of a strong pastoral team is an important criteria when selecting a school as in nowadays world assuring children’s safety is quite complex as threats are more often coming from the immediate surrounding than from outside school boundaries. Bullying, abuse, and internet dangers are all modern issues schools and parents must consider these in keeping children safe.
  • The global comfort: Finally, as health encompasses physical AND mental well-being, elements such as friendship, sense of connection, self-esteem, freedom and respect are must be taken into consideration when choosing a school.

Choosing the right school for our children is a struggle every parent goes through as we all are looking for an enabling and safe learning environment. The selection process should include hygiene and safety criteria as well as a thriving milieu with a team that values every child’s self-actualization.

About the author

Dr Anbreen Slama-Chaudhry

health in schools

Dr Anbreen Slama-Chaudhry is a medical doctor (GP), Health & Well-being Consultant, Chronic Diseases Patient Education and Self-Care specialist

She is the founder of Medical Training Services, a Swiss registered health training company, whose vision is “A world where everyone has the knowledge and ability to make healthy choices, regardless of their educational or social background,” and whose mission is “To provide equitable knowledge and skills access empowering everyone to make informed health choices throughout their life course.”


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