Learn­ing pro­longs our lives

The Sunday Times - - News - JOSH ZIM­MER­MAN

HIGH school drop-outs are shav­ing more years off their lives than packa-day smok­ers and the big num­ber of stu­dents fail­ing to com­plete sec­ondary school should be treated as a pub­lic health emer­gency, re­search shows.

Curtin Univer­sity pub­lic health ex­pert Bret Hart will ar­gue teach­ers are bet­ter than doc­tors at pro­long­ing life when he de­liv­ers the open­ing ad­dress at a Perth con­fer­ence hosted by Well­be­ing in Schools Aus­tralia (WISA) on Fri­day.

He points to US re­search that found a 12-year dif­fer­ence in av­er­age life ex­pectancy between those with less than a high-school ed­u­ca­tion and those who have earned a de­gree.

“By con­trast, the dif­fer­ence in life ex­pectancy between some­one who smokes 30 cig­a­rettes a day and some­one who has never smoked is just six years,” Dr Hart said.

“And el­e­vated choles­terol is as­so­ci­ated with just a six-month drop in life ex­pectancy.”

Al­most four in 10 high school stu­dents left the pub­lic sys­tem with­out ob­tain­ing a WA Cer­tifi­cate of Ed­u­ca­tion in 2016.

Dr Hart, who is also the WISA chair­man, said ed­u­ca­tion acts as a “salu­to­gen” — the op­po­site of a dis­ease-caus­ing pathogen — by sup­port­ing hu­man health and well-be­ing.

“Ac­tion to en­sure stu­dents achieve grad­u­a­tion has more im­pact on health than the pro­vi­sion of med­i­cal ser­vices,” he said.

“Aus­tralian schools must de­velop, in young stu­dents, a strong well­be­ing ethos, life prac­tices and sur­vival skills in the face of in­creas­ing and more com­plex stu­dent health and well­be­ing needs.”

WISA chief ex­ec­u­tive Jac Van Velsen said stress was a big fac­tor lead­ing stu­dents to drop out of school.

“One in four stu­dents ex­pe­ri­ences vi­o­lence at home, one in five goes to school hun­gry each week, one in six lives below the poverty line, and one in four stu­dents, in Years 4 to 9, is bul­lied,” she said. “No won­der 25 per cent of young peo­ple face se­ri­ous men­tal health is­sues that can lead to them drop­ping out of school, and fac­ing a life­time of chal­lenges and risks.”

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