Concerning bears, tigers and elephants : an exploration of health education in ACT schools

  • Antoinette Ackermann

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


This study presents an evaluation of health
education in schools in the Australian Capital Territory,
listing as evidence the perceptions and experiences of
students and teachers at three levels of schooling. There
is a particular emphasis on the high school. First, a
broad-based literature review was undertaken, in order
to arrive at some theoretical principles for health
education. For The evaluation itself a combination of
methods has been used including student questionnaires,
teacher interviews, group discussion, participant
observation and an9lysis of documents. While the questionnaire
was the major research tool, all sources are integrated
in the final discussion in order to provide a broad picture
of health education at the different school levels.
Conclusions drawn from the review of literature include (i)
that contemporary health education in the
Western world is concerned with the quality of life and
with the decisions, at both individual and community levels,
which relate to lifestyle, and (ii) the inevitability of
social change had led to the recognition in the United
Kingdom, United States of America and Australia of the need
for young people to develop strategies for coping with a
changing environment. In Australian Capital Territory
schools, health education has been recognised as carrying
the responsibility for developing these strategies. A key
theme emerging from the review and explored in the
evaluation is that, if these goals are to be achieved,
particular emphasis must be placed on the process of
learning and on the social emotional environment as an
integral part of that process.
In order to explore this hypothesis information
was collected on student and teacher perceptions of the
above concepts of health education and how these differ
in a range of schools. To this end six schools which
positively identified health education as part of their
curriculum were used as case studies. As individual
schools they were found to approach this in different
ways and these different approaches build a broad picture
of school health education in action. It was found
however, that there were major difficulties !n effectively
incorporating contemporary health education in schools.
These difficulties repeat those already
identified in my review of health education in Australian
schools in this century. A "reaction pattern" of "Band-Aid"
response to social change is repeatedly incorporated
into the traditional education curriculum of the time
under the title of health education.
In the present era, there can be identified a
mismatch between the objectives of contemporary health
education and the present educational paradigm. A major
finding in this regard was the failure of the high school
to match up either to needs of students or the ideals of
health education. While the fulfilment of these ideals
was shown to be possible given specific teacher qualities,
it was also found to be inhibited by a range of
environmental factors. Examples of these were found to
be organisational barriers and staff and student pressure
to conform to the established structure and to the
established roles. The study highlights the frustrating
position of the teacher who seeks, or is given, the task
of implementing contemporary health education in present-day
Date of Award1983
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Canberra

Cite this