Education about drugs for school kids
Education for children about drugs issues began in Irish schools in the mid-1990s. Two programmes, 'Walk Tall' for primary school pupils and 'On My Own Two Feet' for secondary school pupils, were introduced to warn children about the problems they could face if they became involved with drugs.
The programmes include information on illegal and legal drug use, including drinking and even passive smoking, but all substance misuse education is conveyed within a framework designed to give children the knowledge and the power to make informed decisions about their life choices.
The focus of both programmes is to develop children's sense of identity and self-esteem. They are taught to understand their feelings and the influences brought to bear on their young lives and learn to communicate assertively and make informed decisions.
Recently, both programmes were incorporated into the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) curriculum, which will be rolled out to all schools in the country within the next two years. This curriculum also includes exercises in sexual and relationship education at secondary level.
The 'Walk Tall' programme was planned and designed in 1996 and was introduced as a pilot scheme to schools in Dublin, Donegal and Cork in the 1996/7 school year. It is a programme of substance abuse awareness classes, tailored for school children from Junior Infants to Sixth Class.
In 1998, the scheme was introduced to all primary schools in areas prioritised as having a serious drugs problem, primarily regions in urban Dublin experiencing significant heroin use.
The main aim of the 'Walk Tall' programme is to prevent substance misuse among children. Its main themes involve teaching children self-esteem and decision making to empower them to refuse drugs when they are offered. The programme also involves some drugs awareness education, but care has been taken to ensure that the content is appropriate for the age group receiving the information.
The programme also attempts to instil drugs prevention education among teachers and parents, by promoting awareness events and disseminating information leaflets and resources. Teachers from over 2,700 schools have so far attended substance misuse prevention seminars in order to conduct the 'Walk Tall' programme.
The programme has now been integrated into the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) curriculum and is part of this curriculum in schools nationwide. 'Walk Tall' is administered by the Department of Education Substance Misuse Prevention Programme, which can be contacted at (01) 4591816.
For secondary school pupils, a programme called 'On My Own Two Feet' was launched in October 1994. It had been developed by the Departments of Education and Health in conjunction with the Mater Dei Counselling Centre in Dublin. The programme is now conducted in all secondary schools and is also used to train staff at Youthreach Centres throughout the country.
Information on drugs, both legal and illegal, is integrated into exercises aimed at developing pupils' sense of identity and self-esteem. The 'On My Own Two Feet' programme also deals with understanding influences, decision making, feelings and communication.
As there is a significant overlap between this material and the content of the Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE) programme, the Department of Education has recently merged the two into a secondary level SPHE curriculum which will be aimed at junior cycle students.
Parents are encouraged to get involved in their children's education on drugs issues and a leaflet for them entitled 'Parents, Children and Drug Use' is available from the Department of Education. Further information on the SPHE curriculum can be obtained from the Department of Education or from schools directly.
According to previous Education Minister, Dr Michael Woods: "The focus in SPHE is to enable students to develop a framework for responsible decision-making for every aspect of their personal and social lives. This means to being able to say no to the misuse of different substances including drugs, tobacco and alcohol, to have an awareness of the consequences of substance misuse and to make conscious and informed decisions about the use of drugs in their lives".
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