Well-being is increasingly a focus of national and local strategy, as interest moves beyond a sole focus on economic outcomes to capture a more holistic representation of human potential and social productivity. This is particularly true for the child and youth population, where early investments can have profound benefits across the lifespan. The well-being of the child and youth population in the Middle Eastern/North African (MENA) region and in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (GCC) is especially critical as children and youth make up a significant portion of the population. Children and youth under the age of 25 made up 54% of the total population of the six GCC countries in 2010. Educational and community settings are where much of the activity to support youth occurs, but there has been limited review of the approaches to promote well-being in these settings, with particular attention to how health and education are connected to ultimately promote well-being.
RAND Corporation, working closely with the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) and the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) via the Qatar Foundation (QF), developed a report: “Promoting Youth Well-being Through Health and Education: Insight and Opportunities.” The report presents an analysis of school- and community-based interventions that are designed to improve both educational and health outcomes for youth and share insights from various countries and cities.
Interventions Promoting Both Health and Education
The report summarizes research on five interventions that are designed to improve both health and educational outcomes in children and adolescents. The interventions improve health and education via different pathways, which range from changing individual attitudes and behaviors to implementing district-wide policy. The interventions reviewed include a growth mindset, mindfulness, social-emotional learning, positive education, and integrated student supports. Emerging evidence supports the effectiveness of these interventions, but with a greater focus on short-term outcomes only, and few interventions have addressed multiple outcomes across both health and education domains. Few studies have examined the impact of these interventions on students living in the MENA region. As such, little evidence exists to understand how religion and culture can influence the effects of these interventions on youth well-being.
Examples of Youth Well-Being Policies and Programs Connecting Health and Education
Many youth well-being policies are attempting different aspects of health, social and emotional development. In the MENA region, workforce development was uniquely represented as another component to youth well-being policy. The focus on vocational training and employability reflects the region’s emphasis on diversifying its economy and concern about relatively high rates of youth unemployment.
Some case examples have applied evidence-based interventions to promote youth well-being. The positive education approach and social-emotional learning were used most frequently. For example, Kuwait, Jordan, Ontario, and Singapore have implemented school-based positive education and social-emotional learning programs to support students’ psychological, social, and emotional health. New Zealand applies an integrated student supports model in which schools offer both physical and mental health services to students. Santa Monica, Oman, and Demark place an emphasis on collecting comprehensive data to document the status and track the progress of youth well-being, helping to build more robust evidence around youth well-being.
Countries and cities have varied in terms of their evaluation efforts. Some countries such as Jordan and Kuwait, have conducted preliminary evaluations of individual-level interventions, while others look at more program-level changes to better support youth. For example, Kuwaiti teachers and students discussed improvement in confidence and conflict resolution skills as a result of participation in an after-school program that teaches life skills and health lessons to vulnerable students (the Nashatati program). However, it should be noted that most evaluations do not yet have the rigor of longitudinal or full experimental designs.
Future Directions for Youth Well-being Policies and Programs that Connect Health and Education
The report describes ways that countries and communities can link health and education in their youth well-being strategy. These include developing a common national youth well-being framework, adopting multi-system approaches, and use of evidence-based interventions within the national framework.
Well-being is becoming a core feature of national and community planning, policy making, and resource allocation and is emerging as critical to the development of individuals, communities, and nations that thrive and flourish. Youth well-being, specifically, is an increasingly important part of this well-being discussion and is informing local and national policy and the choices that youth-serving organizations are making in the context of supporting youth development. Since health and lifelong learning are two important components of youth well-being, a more intentional integration of health and education into youth well-being policies and programs is necessary.