Close this search box.

Using the participatory approach in health education

How can I use your participatory approach to health education in my school?

There is no ONE participatory approach to use with children. Each context is different but in each one there is ALWAYS scope for children to do more. In most settings children are the recipients of health education. They are not contributors to it. It is so much more effective when children can be mobilised to investigate health issues and come up with ideas to make improvements. The experience of doing so can be life changing for them. Adults listening, taking them seriously, and helping them put something important into action! Wow!

For example, what’s the point in endlessly talking to children about proper handwashing when the problem is not that they don’t know that’s what they should be doing, but it’s the availability of water, soap, a place to wash their hands, permission to use water and soap in that way or as much as is needed etc.

If children are given opportunities to raise to the practical challenges blocking their way to taking action on good health habits – and contribute to addressing these challenges (with adult support) then real change starts to happen. We have even seen how it can motivate families to switch to a different staple food. A herculean achievement.

Over very many years we developed a programme called PCAANS for Mozambique. This acronym in Portuguese means, The Participation of Children in Learning and Action for Nutrition and Health. Many people ask us how they can adapt the PCAANS programme we developed in Mozambique to mobilise young adolescents in other schools in other countries.

If this is you, we have an FAQ section in out toolkit which may provide answers to some of your questions. Of course schools all have different ways of working and different priorities, so please get in touch if you need more information on how to adapt the approach to your school. The following is an extract from that section.

What is PCAANS?

PCAANS is an approach to health education developed in Tete Province, Mozambique. The approach mobilises children as messengers of good health in their families and communities. PCAANS is the acronym that stands for, The Participation of Children in Learning and Action for Nutrition and Health (in Portuguese!). PCAANS is a good strategy to connect a school with its community and to improve health. It connects children’s learning with their real lives.  

Who created PCAANS?

PCAANS was created by a team of children, teachers, families, and government officials working to improve nutrition in their communities in Tete Province, specifically in Tsangano district. It was part of a nutrition program in Tete Province between 2013 and 2017. Children for Health, an NGO in the UK helped develop the approach,  train teachers, write materials and evaluate the programme. All this work began in 2011. PCAANS focussed on nutrition at first and was called PCAAN, but now it focusses on other health topics too.

Who is responsible for PCAANS in schools?

The best people to be responsible for PCAANS, or any nutrition and health programme, are the school management team, particularly teachers who are teaching topics related to health education including physical education (PE) and science education. This programme connects learning with the real life of the children at home. It works best when 2-3 teachers are involved so they can discuss PCAANS and help each other. PCAANS MUST be supported by the headteacher and by the parents and those who govern the school too.

Is PCAANs for all children in our school?

Yes, PCAANS is for all children, but often it is best led by children aged 10-14. Sometimes schools organise a smaller group of children to learn health messages and activities and then they teach them to others. Sometimes children in a whole year group learn the health messages and activities and then spread these to younger children in the school or in the community. It’s very important that ALL children in the school feel a part of the PCAANS programme. How this is done will depend on the school.

How is the teaching and how are the children activities monitored and supervised?

PCAANS is an approach whereby children gather in a place of learning to develop their understanding, to discuss and plan, and then to report and reflect on their actions. The strength of the approach is that the actual actions taken are planned by the children and each child might have different ways in which they share messages and ask questions in their family or with their family and friends. This activity is like a homework activity and is not supervised or monitored formally by adults. It can feel strange at first but most children really enjoy it. However, families should be aware that the children are involved in a project or programme, as the school or community leader will raise awareness of the activities before they start. It’s also important that children do not feel forced to take any action or even ask any questions in their families.

When on the timetable are PCAANS activities scheduled?

Health education is a part of the science curriculum in all schools. PCAANS is an approach that can be used as an integrated part of the curriculum or as a stand-alone health club.

Remember that many PCAANS activities are done by the children outside school time. Teacher or mobilisers will need to introduce topics, monitor the children’s planning and actions, and then help them to reflect on the results of their actions. These activities do not need to take too much time and children quickly grasp and get used to the rhythm of the process itself. So, some classroom time may be needed or time taken at the start or the end of the teaching day, but informal time can be used as well. As children tend to enjoy PCAANS activities, it’s easy to motivate then to get involved.

Here are some opportunities within the education system that can be used for different PCAANS approach actions:

  1. Included as part of a health-related science lesson to achieve practical activities.
  2. During time designed for children to take part in local activities – this a great feature of the school week in Mozambique.
  3. Extracurricular sessions like those linked to the interest circle – see below.
  4. At assembly time or community when health messages for the whole school can be repeated.

How can we use School Health Clubs for PCAAN?

School health clubs are a formal extra curricula structure in the schools run by the Government of Mozambique. They are called ‘Interest Circles’. PCAANS activities fit well within this structure providing health and hygiene content and activities for teachers.  

For more on the details on how to conduct your participatory work with children, please download the PCAANS Toolkit:

We would love to develop this programme further and if you, your school or organisation would be interested in partnership we would love to hear from you!