Health education significantly reduces risky behaviors among youth and improves job readiness, new study shows

Students in colleges, centres of excellence, and vocational schools who have access to health education by studying the discipline "Decisions for a healthy lifestyle" as part of their curriculum display better knowledge and fewer risky behaviors related to nutrition, substance use (tobacco, alcohol, drugs), sexual-reproductive health, violence, and tend to more smoothly integrate into the labour market.

This is the conclusion of the „Study on the knowledge, attitudes and practices regarding the health and life skills of students in vocational education and training institutions (VET) in the Republic of Moldova”, conducted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and launched today in Chisinau.

The aim of the research was to establish the level of health-related knowledge of girls and boys in VET institutions as well as health-related behaviours and abilities that can help them integrate more easily into the job market.

"Young people need professional support and guidance in the process of transitioning to adulthood, a stage in which they need to be encouraged to understand their own emotions, feelings and to consciously define their priorities, including those related to a career. Deficiency in the formation of assertive communication skills, interaction with peers, understanding of healthy behaviors can have negative repercussions for their future. The results of this study confirm that the “Decisions for a Healthy Lifestyle” course has allowed young people involved in the research to reset certain visions and priorities in sensitive topics such as sexuality education or gender education”, stated Natalia Grîu, State Secretary on Education, Ministry of Education, Culture and Research.

Natalia Grîu expressed the belief that providing health education and ensuring students’ access to the “Decision for a healthy lifestyle” course it is the right direction, noting the need “to also strengthen the efforts of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Research with the efforts of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Protectio and development partners to improve the quality of these programs, as well as their extension at the level of each educational institution”.

The study focused on 923 students aged 15-19 from 20 centres of excellence, colleges and vocational schools. It was conducted as part of the UNFPA project "Develop life skills and healthy behaviours of students in VET for their development and job readiness”, which is funded by Austrian Development Cooperation (ADA).

"The results of the study highlight the effect the lessons of "Decisions for a healthy lifestyle" and youth-friendly spaces can have on the integration of young people into the labor market. Participating in this curriculum also helps to ensure a prosperous future for them and for their communities. By making life skills and health-based education accessible to students, we enhance the chances for sustainable development of the Republic of Moldova. The Austrian Development Agency, the operational unit of Austrian Development Cooperation, stands ready to further assist our partner country in this direction together with UNFPA, and to scale up the good practices at a national level" , stated Gunther Zimmer, Head of the Austrian Development Cooperation's Coordination Office in Chisinau.

"One of the sad realities brought by the study is that 1/3 of the young people in VET have at least one parent abroad. Given that, the school remains the basic support in the psycho-emotional development of these young people. In this context, becomes mandatory the need to extend the compulsory teaching of the discipline "Decisions for a healthy lifestyle" as well as the consolidation at a national level of the network of peer educators in the VET institutions", emphasized Nigina Abaszada, Resident Representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Moldova.

The study shows that boys and girls in VET institutions frequently display signs of illness and insufficient knowledge regarding symptoms that impede timely access to health care services and other immediately required support. Students also reported a worrying state of mental health that worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although most students highly evaluated their health, 37.7% of them reported two or more signs of illness more frequently than once a week.

The level of health-related knowledge in students who studied the course "Decisions for a healthy lifestyle" is higher than those who did not learn it (52.2%, compared to 42.5%). The increased knowledge level is also attested among students from Centres of Excellence and colleges - 59.5% where the course is mandatory, compared to 43% for vocational schools where the lesson is optional.

The data shows that phenomenon of adolescent pregnancy among student girls in VET institutions is quite frequent. One in 5 girls who got pregnant dropped out of school because of the pregnancy. Very few students are correctly informed regarding contraceptive methods and/or support mechanisms for young mothers, boys being less informed than girls. 

25% of sexually active students do not use condoms being exposed to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancy. The use of oral contraceptive pills is deficient – 8%. These findings become even more worrying when regarding the high frequency of occasional sexual partners and reported forced first sexual intercourse. 

"The health of youth, especially in this difficult period, is a priority, both for the Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Protection, and for the Ministry of Education, Culture and Research. On the one hand, the worrying results on sexual and reproductive health and school dropout due to teenage pregnancies underline Youth Friendly Health Centres' important role. On the other hand, we note the need to strengthen the referral mechanism to sexual and reproductive health services. It is essential to focus on the correct information of young people and motivate them to take care of their health," mentioned Tatiana Zatîc, State Secretary, Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Protection.

According to the experts, the study also indicates many worrying issues, leading to low employment rates and severe health problems.

About half of the students cannot work efficiently independently - 43.4%; do not have the ability to work as part of a team - 46.8%; do not have the ability to listen carefully to learn - 52.5%; do not have the ability to work with people with different skills, and in different environments - 55.4%. Employment skills are more developed in students who have studied the course "Decisions for a healthy lifestyle" (12.75% versus 5.35% - those who did not learn it). 

Almost half of the students were exposed once or more often to at least one form of gender-based violence. It is worrying that sexual harassment and abuse have been reported in a high proportion. Knowledge about all forms of violence is limited as well as the capacity to address it. Still, students who studied the course "Decisions for a healthy lifestyle" showed a higher degree of knowledge regarding the forms of gender-based violence compared to those who did not learn this course (22,2% and 15,4%, respectively).

The detailed results of the study are also available in infographic format here

The project "Develop life skills and healthy behaviors of students in Vocational Education and Training for their development and job readiness" aims to promote healthy behaviors and life skills among young people in VET, which will help them integrate better on the job market.

UN entities involved in this initiative
UNFPA
United Nations Population Fund