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
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
to make conscious and informed decisions about the use of drugs in their lives".