Do textbooks encourage critical thinking about health issues? A discourse analysis of Polish educational materials for primary schools.
2Jagiellonian University Medical College, Poland
Background: Even though Poles consider health as one of the most important values, Poland is among the top ten European countries in terms of obesity among boys and girls. Likewise, mental health problems are pressing. Despite the legal provisions obliging schools to include health education in their curricula, an unhealthy lifestyle remains one of the most important social problems among children and teenagers.
Objectives: To describe to what extent the educational policies, school core curricula, and school textbooks, including teaching methods and tasks/exercises, suggested and narration styles used develop/promote health literacy, foster health competences, and critical thinking in regard to health among primary school pupils.
Methods: Deriving from the situational analysis methodology (Clarke 2003), our study initiated with identification of the main actors, values, and content linked to health education and establishing relations between them. We were also interested in coverage of and time allocation devoted to critical thinking in teachers’ training. We analyzed curricula and identified references to health and critical thinking within randomly selected textbooks. Additionally, we conducted 10 expert interviews with health policy experts and school curricula developers. Text resources were digitized. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. The gathered material was coded deductively and analyzed quantitatively and qualitatively.
Results: In the body of 78 textbooks, the most discussed health-related issues were healthy lifestyle, somatic diseases, and their prophylaxis. Issues such as climate-related well-being and mental health, including substance use prevention, received marginal attention in terms of the frequency of topics covered. Critical thinking tasks are usually located in low-exposure parts of textbooks, which make them easily omittable. The experts recommended a more active role of teachers in the process of developing pupils’ health literacy and proclaimed the need for cross-curricular cooperation.
Conclusions: Although health education plays an important role in the primary school core curriculum, critical thinking about health was rarely raised. The lack of encouragement to think critically reduces the educational value of the present content. We recommend increasing the significance of the reflective approach even on the cost of reducing the amount of factual content presented.