NW 08: Envisioning the role of health and wellbeing education in advancing social justice and health equity

NW 08 Health and Wellbeing Education

Envisioning the role of health and wellbeing education in advancing social justice and health equity

Health and wellbeing education in schools is an essential resource for addressing social justice and health equity across diverse school contexts. Over 30 years ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) established that positive childhood experiences in health and education are key to reducing global health inequities; and a health-promoting school (HPS) approach has been promoted globally since. However, the aspiration of reducing health/wellbeing disparities has not yet been achieved. The purpose of this Special Call is to advance insights into matters of social justice, and explore how researchers are seeking to achieve greater equity through school health and wellbeing research.

The Call
Health and wellbeing education is critical in efforts to reduce social injustices and health and wellbeing inequities (Benes, 2020). Researchers and scholars in the field of health and wellbeing education are keen to challenge traditional discourses of health promotion, which focus narrowly on students’ knowledge, skills and behaviour. Instead they tend to critically explore socio-cultural and other contextual determinants that influence health and wellbeing, including the barriers and potentials related to student participation in health promoting initiatives (Leahy, Fitzpatrick & Wright, 2020; Ruge, Torres, Powell, 2022; Simovska and McNamara, 2015; Faucher, McLellan, & Simovska, 2022). In this regard, the field of health and wellbeing education has always been concerned with issues of social justice.

It is recognized that effective health and wellbeing education can increase awareness and understanding of the social determinants of health and of the power structures that impact health and wellbeing. It can also affect change by empowering students to take personal and collective actions that benefit, not only their own health and wellbeing, but the health of others in their communities and beyond (O’Toole & Simovska, 2022).

The WHO Health Promoting Schools Framework (WHO, 1991) has been instrumental in advancing policies and activities to improve and/or protect health and wellbeing of the whole school community. It includes provisions and activities relating to school policies, the school’s physical and social environment, the knowledge, skills and action competencies developed through pedagogical and curriculum initiatives, and it emphasises the importance of relationships, both within the school and between the school and surrounding community. However, further work is needed to strengthen the positioning of health and wellbeing education in relation to social justice concerns.

The purpose of this Special Call is to advance conversations and insights into  matters of social justice across diverse school contexts, and to envision how greater equity may be achieved through health and wellbeing research. To that end, we seek submissions that include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Conceptualisations of health and wellbeing education from a social justice perspective.
  • Analytical problematisations of traditional health and wellbeing policies and interventions in schools and they position those most marginalised in society.
  • Research that contributes to the design and enactment of innovative health and wellbeing curriculum and pedagogical initiatives that seek to reduce inequalities and promote inclusion.
  • Research into the pedagogies and educational approaches that are conducive to the development of students’ critical inquiry and action-oriented skills needed to advance health equity and social justice.
  • Research into the potentials and barriers for schools in engaging with the social determinants of health and wellbeing inequalities, including issues of health/mental health disparities, power imbalances, oppression, hegemony.
  • Research into sustainability policy, as it plays out in, for example, food, consumption, diversity and other pedagogies.
  • Health and wellbeing in relation to children and young people from a variety of socio-cultural, political, and economic settings.
  • Examining culturally-sensitive and responsive health and wellbeing approaches in schools.
  • Amplifying the voices of children and young people, especially those most marginalised, and ’seldom heard’ in research outputs.

Contact Person(s)
Catriona O’Toole Catriona.A.OToole(at)mu.ie

Benes, S. (2021). Health Education as a Tool for Social Justice and Health Equity. Research Anthology on Public Health Services, Policies, and Education, 52-74.

Faucher, R.W. McLellan & V. Simovska, V. (2022). Wellbeing and Schooling: Cross Cultural and Cross Disciplinary Perspectives. Taylor & Francis. 

Leahy, D, Fitzpatrick, K. & Wright J. (2020). Social Theory and Health Education: Forging New Insights in Research. London: Routledge.

O’Toole. C. & Simovska, V. (2022). Wellbeing and education: Connecting mind, body and world. In C. Faucher, R.W. McLellan & V. Simovska. [Eds]. Wellbeing and Schooling: Cross Cultural and Cross Disciplinary Perspectives. Taylor & Francis.

Ruge, D., Torres, I., & Powell, D. (2022). School Food, Equity and Social Justice: Critical Reflections and Perspectives (p. 254). Taylor & Francis.

Simovska, V., & McNamara, P. (2015). Schools for health and Sustainability. Springer.

World Health Organisation. (1991). Background, development and strategy outline of the health promoting schools project. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe

NW 08 runs a mailing list and invites researchers to join. To join the mailing list, send a blank message to nw08-subscribe(at)lists.eera-ecer.de .

Interview with Link Convenor 2019