Wide angle Education

Make an informed decision

Almost everyone shares information on health issues on social media without even thinking about the source.

Almost everyone shares information on health issues on social media without even thinking about the source.

As I was writing this column, I received a WhatsApp message titled “Bye, bye Corona”. It claimed that those who have been infected with the coronavirus can be cured within two hours if they take a glass of tender coconut water + one spoonful of salt + one spoonful of honey + lemon juice. Apparently, this is a remedy popular in Indonesia and Malaysia. Later, I found that this message had already been shared in many other groups.

Is this useful information or harmful misinformation? I asked my friends and relatives what they would do if they had received the message. Most said that they would share it. People seem to believe that information on social media is authentic and think that it need not be verified. Ever since the coronavirus was discovered, almost everyone talks and shares information about it on WhatsApp without even thinking about the source of the information. Much harmful content has been widely circulated on social media. A WhatsApp message claiming that Dettol and Lysol can kill the coronavirus was shared so widely that the companies had to issue a clarification. Today, pseudo-scientific beliefs and practices based on misinformation spread through social media faster than ever before. Why? Due to the lack of health literacy among people.

Health literacy, defined as “the ability to find, understand and use health information and services”, is an important 21st-century competence that enables everyone to critically evaluate health information, make informed decisions about health. It is crucial to teach students health literacy skills in order to enable them to lead healthier lives. People who are health-literate know how to reduce the risk of disease and can also help others in the family and neighbourhood.

What to do

Health literacy should be incorporated into the curriculum and teacher-training programmes. Teachers and students should be given basic medical knowledge and encouraged to stay updated on health-related matters.

Students should know how their body works and the causes of diseases such as dengue. Though many know that it is caused by the bite of infected mosquitoes, they do not know how to protect themselves.

Teachers should discuss medical matters in the classroom, as open discussion can help debunk widely circulated myths.

Schools should invite health professionals or health literacy experts on a regular basis to address students on how they can prevent and protect themselves from certain illnesses.

Students should be encouraged to ask questions to their doctors. Even in developed countries, many studies show that patients are embarrassed to ask questions to their doctors. Everyone has the right to ask questions and get correct information from their physician.

Students should be encouraged to watch TV programmes and videos related to health matters. Recently, there was a wonderful interview with a doctor on how a genetically-modified pig heart was successfully transplanted to a patient with terminal heart disease. News like this can arouse the curiosity of some students who may want to know more.

Teachers should also talk to students about issues such as health insurance and medical ethics.

It is important to tell the students not to trust everything they read on the Internet. They should be taught to check whether the medical information has been reviewed by real experts. This can happen only if teachers educate themselves and are able to identify misinformation and disinformation.

The writer is an ELT resource person and education columnist. rayanal@yahoo.co.uk

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Printable version | May 29, 2022 8:06:45 am | https://www.thehindu.com/education/how-can-we-promote-health-literacy-among-teachers-and-students/article38308263.ece