Social, personal and health education
Social, personal and health education (SPHE) provides particular opportunities to foster the personal development, health and well-being of the individual child, to help him/her to create and maintain supportive relationships and become an active and responsible citizen in society. Through an SPHE programme that is planned and consistent throughout the school, children can develop a framework of values, attitudes, understanding and skills that will inform their decisions and actions both now and in the future. Since SPHE has a moral and a spiritual dimension, its development and implementation are influenced significantly by the ethos or characteristic spirit of the school.
The learning and teaching climate that prevails in the classroom, the methodologies and approaches used and the relationships that the children experience and witness in the school, all contribute to their social, personal and health development. Similarly, many of the themes and topics addressed in the various subjects have a social, personal or health perspective, as will many of the incidental happenings that occur in the everyday life of the school. There are also particular issues that are intrinsic to SPHE that need to be explored and examined in some detail.
An effective and meaningful SPHE programme will cater for all these dimensions by providing learning opportunities in a combination of three ways: in the context of a positive school climate and atmosphere, through discrete time (a specific time on the timetable) and through an integrated approach across a range of subject areas. Implementation in this way will enable the teacher to adopt a coherent approach to the programme, take cognisance of the learning experience in the home and make use of the most appropriate learning and teaching strategies.
As children progress through an SPHE programme, they will encounter a wide range of issues. These will include substance misuse, relationships, sexuality, child abuse prevention, prejudice and discrimination. The SPHE curriculum is structured in such a way that these issues are not explored in isolation; rather the emphasis is on building a foundation of skills, values, attitudes and understanding relevant to all these issues, with specific information provided where necessary.
The SPHE curriculum
SPHE promotes intrapersonal development by helping children to recognise, understand and accept themselves as unique individuals who feel valued and loved. It provides particular opportunities to nurture selfworth and self-confidence, helping the child to set and assess his/her own goals and to be able to manage his/her own behaviour. SPHE enables the child to build a sense of self-efficacy which in turn can increase his/her sense of personal control, promote self-awareness and enable self-directed learning. An SPHE programme particularly contributes to the development of personal attributes and skills, such as learning how to manage feelings, how to resolve conflicts and how to cope with new and demanding situations.
The ways in which children live and behave in the early years of life will have a significant influence on their health and well-being in future years. SPHE ensures that health messages are planned, implemented and reinforced and provides clarification of some of the misinformation that children may receive. It also aims to enable children to develop a sense of personal responsibility for their own health and for the decisions and the choices they make in relation to their behaviour and actions.
As part of their social development children need to learn to appreciate other people in their lives and to know how to create and maintain positive, healthy relationships. An SPHE programme can significantly contribute to interpersonal development by helping children to acquire a range of communication skills and to understand the ways in which they can show respect, care and consideration in their dealings with others. In school, children can learn how to develop and sustain relationships based on mutual respect and responsibility and can begin to understand the importance of trust and honesty in human interactions.
Children also need to learn that personal motives should be balanced with a sense of social responsibility. SPHE plays an important role in developing an understanding of the democratic way of life and individual and group rights and responsibilities. It provides opportunities for children to learn about, and actively participate in, the various communities to which they belong and to develop a sense of a shared commitment. It can also help them to value and take pride in their national, European and global identities and come to an understanding of what it means to be a citizen in the widest sense.
Diversity and difference characterise the society in which children live. However, prejudice and discrimination are all too often a feature of human relationships. A respect for and an appreciation of human and cultural diversity can and should be promoted at every level of the primary school. Through SPHE children can become aware of some of the prejudices and attitudes that fail to respect the dignity of others. They are given opportunities to develop an understanding of their own culture and traditions and equally to acquire a growing appreciation of the positive contributions made by different groups in society. As children learn to understand and practise equality, justice and fairness in school situations they will be enabled to challenge prejudice and discrimination as they experience it in their own lives both now and in the future.
Children live in an age in which they are bombarded daily with information from a variety of sources. They are also under increasing commercial pressure where marketing techniques are employed widely to appeal to even the very youngest child. SPHE encourages children to become more discerning in their use of the media and to learn about and become aware of the techniques and strategies used in advertising and in the media in general.
SPHE does not begin or end in school. Children’s understanding of the world, their own role and place in society and ways of behaving are significantly influenced by the family and the home environment. While this continues throughout their lives, other factors, such as the media, friends, peers and individual experiences, become increasingly influential.
An SPHE programme is most effective when it is based on a consistency in approach and where the responsibility is shared by parents, teachers, children, board of management, health professionals and relevant members of the community. Close consultation between the partners will be an essential element in the planning process and in regular reviews of the programme. This partnership approach helps to ensure that children are provided with a consistent experience in SPHE and are able to make connections between life at home, in the school and in the community.
The strands of the curriculum
The curriculum is presented in three strands: Myself, Myself and others and Myself and the wider world. These are consistent throughout the primary school and provide a basis for the SPHE and the civic, social and political education (CSPE) curricula at post-primary level.
The strands are presented at four levels, outlining the content that could be covered at each stage of the child’s time in school. Because the child’s development proceeds unevenly, the content and associated exemplars should be used in a flexible manner. They are a guideline from which a suitable programme can be developed, one that can have maximum effect because it is made to suit individuals chools and sets of circumstances. The curriculum is drawn up in a spiral manner, that is, where similar content is revisited at each level but the processes, approaches and information adopted reflect the needs of children at a particular time and at their various stages of readiness.
Myself is concerned with the personal development of the individual child and his/her health and well-being. An exploration of the elements of this strand can foster self-awareness and understanding and enable children to care for and respect themselves. The content also allows for the development of a variety of personal and self-management skills and the fostering of a sense of personal responsibility for their own actions and behaviour. The strand Myself also contributes to children establishing ways of thinking, feeling and acting that can help to promote and maintain health and well-being both now and in the future.
Myself and others focuses on developing a sense of care and respect for other people and the facility for relating to and communicating effectively with others. It helps to foster the qualities and dispositions in the children that will help them to live and work with others and to act in socially responsible ways. They are given opportunities to learn and practise a wide range of communication skills, including the ability to resolve conflicts, to empathise, to be assertive, to co-operate and to work collaboratively with others.
Myself and the wider world enables children to explore the various communities in which they live. They can learn how to operate competently in society and to understand what it means to belong and to share a sense of purpose. In exploring this strand they are encouraged to develop a sense of social responsibility and an appreciation of the interdependent nature of the world in which they live. The work in this strand also includes exploring the need to care for the environment and to keep it in trust for future generations. Children are given opportunities to learn about their own culture and traditions and are encouraged to respect the rights and contributions of culturally diverse people and groups.
This strand also promotes media awareness and helps children to examine and explore various forms of media. Using media techniques and becoming familiar with information technologies in a structured way can help children to benefit from the technology, thus fostering critical media usage.
Approaches and methodologies
The methodologies and approaches used in the classroom are crucial to the child’s social, personal and health development. As active participants in their own learning, children can make sense of what is being learned, make informed judgements and construct new meanings. It is more likely that children will develop a sense of ownership over what they have learned and be able to transfer it to different situations when they have been actively involved in the learning process. While independent learning is fostered, it is equally essential that children are given opportunities to interact with others and with their environment and to learn to cooperate with their peers.
For active learning to take place, the school should provide a supportive and caring environment, in which the child is encouraged to participate in his/her own learning and in which each contribution is valued and appreciated. The role of the teacher will be central to the use of effective active learning and teaching techniques in the classroom. He/she will need to structure activities and guide and direct the work in such a way that a child can participate in a real and meaningful way and can develop a sense of responsibility for his/her own learning.
A wide variety of active learning strategies should be used in implementing SPHE in order to take account of the individual needs and the wide range of objectives in the curriculum. These strategies could include play, discussion and drama activities, co-operative games, multimedia programmes, accessing the internet and e-mail, exploring television, video extracts or photographs, carrying out surveys or interpreting data. As part of any learning and teaching strategy in SPHE children should be encouraged to critically reflect on their work and explore possibilities for transferring what they have learned to situations in their own lives.
Children with special needs
All children should have the opportunity to participate in and benefit from the full range of experiences offered in SPHE. In planning for SPHE account should be taken of the range of difference in the school so that all children will be given the opportunity to obtain maximum benefit from the programme.
SPHE and Language
SPHE provides a context in which children are given opportunities to develop and enhance their language skills and to increase their vocabulary related to the social, personal and health aspects of their lives. In asking appropriate questions, giving opinions, exploring ideas, or making responses, children can become increasingly fluent in their use of language and can improve many of the skills they may have learned in other areas of the curriculum. Such confidence and competence in using language will be particularly significant in enabling children to access critical information relating to their own health and well-being, both now and in later years. This facility can also contribute to building positive relationships by enhancing communication and fostering genuine understanding.
The exploration of language and its usage in relating to others is central to any SPHE programme. Children should become aware of the power and the influence of language. When used positively, language can build up, affirm and show respect to another human being but if used in a negative manner can hurt, diminish or demean. Children need to recognise and become sensitive to the ways in which they themselves use language in their relationships and in their everyday interactions.
Language is also powerful because it both creates and reflects a culture. Through SPHE children can begin to appreciate the connection between language and identity. A planned programme throughout the school also provides children with opportunities to explore the language used in various media and to recognise the values, attitudes and viewpoints being promoted and fostered.
SPHE and information and communication technologies
ICTs can support the learning and teaching of SPHE in the classroom. Children can develop self-confidence and motivation through using and becoming familiar with computers. Other aspects of SPHE such as learning to take turns, to share and to co-operate can be developed as children use computers in a planned and appropriate manner. Computers can also be particularly helpful in enhancing children’s decision-making skills and in helping them to become discerning and judicious users of various technologies.
Children can use computers in SPHE to gather information on specific topics or to collate and present data. While there are many CD-ROMs available on health and social issues, the internet also provides a wealth of up-to-date information and can indicate further avenues of investigation. Exploring the internet, and using e-mail or video conferencing can enhance children’s sense of global citizenship and foster a wide range of communication skills.
Assessment in SPHE guides the teacher in improving the learning experiences for the child and in continually refining and developing the programme to suit individual needs, interests and abilities. It can be particularly helpful in enabling children to see how they are progressing and to recognise and appreciate their own achievements. As many of the benefits or outcomes of SPHE do not emerge or become evident until long after the child has left primary school, the assessment relates to that which can be effectively assessed during his/her time in school. The section on assessment outlines the extent to which the progress of the child in SPHE can be determined, the most appropriate tools for this purpose and the way in which it can be managed in the primary school.
The aims of social, personal and health education are
- to promote the personal development and well-being of the child
- to foster in the child a sense of care and respect for himself/herself and others and an appreciation of the dignity of every human being
- to promote the health of the child and provide a foundation for healthy living in all its aspects
- to enable the child to make informed decisions and choices about the social, personal and health dimensions of life both now and in the future
- to develop in the child a sense of social responsibility, a commitment to active and participative citizenship and an appreciation of the democratic way of life
- to enable the child to respect human and cultural diversity and to appreciate and understand the interdependent nature of the world.
When due account is taken of intrinsic abilities and varying circumstances, the SPHE curriculum should enable the child to
- be self-confident and have a positive sense of self-esteem
- develop a sense of personal responsibility and come to understand his/her sexuality and the processes of growth, development and reproduction
- develop and enhance the social skills of communication, co-operation and conflict resolution
- create and maintain supportive relationships both now and in the future
- develop an understanding of healthy living, an ability to implement healthy behaviour and a willingness to participate in activities that promote and sustain health
- develop a sense of safety and an ability to protect himself/herself from danger and abuse
- make decisions, solve problems and take appropriate actions in various personal, social and health contexts
- become aware of, and discerning about, the various influences on choices and decisions
- begin to identify, review and evaluate the values and attitudes that are held by individuals and society and to recognise that these affect thoughts and actions
- respect the environment and develop a sense of responsibility for its long-term care
- develop some of the skills and abilities necessary for participating fully in groups and in society
- become aware of some of the individual and community rights and responsibilities that come from living in a democracy
- begin to understand the concepts of personal, local, national, European and global identity
- appreciate and respect the diversity that exists in society and the positive contributions of various cultural, religious and social groups
- promote the values of a just and caring society in an age-appropriate manner and understand the importance of seeking truth and peace.
Planning content for all classes
The content of the SPHE curriculum is presented in three strands, Myself, Myself and others and Myself and the wider world. The divisions within each strand are referred to as strand units, and some of the objectives are illustrated with exemplars. These exemplars are in italic type and should be considered merely as suggestions.
Implementing SPHE in the school
It is recommended that SPHE be provided in a combination of three ways within the school:
- a positive school climate and atmosphere fosters the health and well-being of all the members of the school community. It reflects a safe and secure environment where children experience a sense of belonging and know that the concerns and contributions of parents, children and teachers are taken into account. A positive school climate and atmosphere nurtures self-confidence and self-worth and promotes respectful and caring relationships throughout the school. It therefore provides the context in which work carried out in a range of subjects, including SPHE, is lived out and makes sense
- discrete SPHE time provides for the teaching of some elements of the programme during designated class periods. This time can be used to develop and practise particular skills, deal with sensitive issues or explore issues that are not addressed in other areas of the curriculum. To use this time effectively it may be more appropriate for the teacher to organise it in block periods and use it as required rather than confining the time to a set period in each week
- an integrated approach allows for many aspects of SPHE to be dealt with in the context of relevant subject areas. Through a variety of learning experiences across the curriculum children work together, solve problems, make decisions, engage in dialogue and reflect critically. Some subject areas also provide the most appropriate context for exploring particular aspects of SPHE: for example, developing a sense of care and respect for the environment could be fostered through science and history, while safety in water could be appropriately explored through physical education.
A broad and balanced programme
It is recommended that in planning an SPHE programme the teacher would choose some content from each of the three major strands in any one year. The selection could consist of two or three strand units from the Strand Myself and at least one strand unit from the strand Myself and others and from Myself and the wider world. Alternatively, the selection could consist of a range of topics taken from all three strands. It is envisaged that the content not covered in year one, would be included in the teacher’s planning for the following year.
It is important that planning takes place at both a school and class level to ensure that the programme reflects a spiral approach, where similar aspects are revisited in different ways according to the age, stage of development and readiness of the child. It is also essential that the content chosen for every class includes a balance between learning skills, fostering and exploring attitudes and developing understanding. Planning for SPHE will always be informed by the ethos of the school and developed within the context of the school plan.
In addressing sensitive issues it will be necessary to take into account the different levels of emotional and physical development of the children and to adapt the programme accordingly. It will be particularly important in multi-class situations to seek co-operation from other teachers or make alternative arrangements, so that individual needs are met.