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Substance and Schools

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Substance and Schools Substance and Schools

Better late than never, lessons on the disastrous effects of substance use are now being given to boys in schools in the hope that it will help create awareness on the spreading social malaise.

Published reports have it that in more recent times addiction begins during the teens. The local media regularly carries draconian reports on the rapidly declining age of drug abuse in Iran. Officials and social scientists also warn of what lies ahead if effective measures are not taken by the education authorities to address the problem.

Therefore, the education system should be held accountable to some extent if students do not gain the essential knowledge and skills in healthy living, and learn to imbibe the right social values. Children who aren’t properly informed at an early age are at greater risk of falling into harm’s way.

Nearly 1% of school students are falling victims to drugs, officials say. While this does not mean they are addicted, however, they experiment with drugs “as fun,” which is a matter of concern as it can lead to abuse later on if not checked in time.

Every five years research is conducted on drug abuse and drug addiction among Iranian students. The last one was in 2010.

Studies in 2001 revealed that 0.5% of the students had tried drugs once. In less than a decade, the figure had almost doubled, reaching 0.9% in 2010, which sounded the alarm bells on the situation.

Two years ago, two new books were added to the girls and boys school curriculums. Titled “Thinking and Lifestyle for Girls” and “Thinking and Lifestyle for Boys,” the subject matter is seemingly appropriate for both. The books are taught to boy and girl students in the 7th and 8th grades. But the information provided is only skin-deep.

The book for girls discusses subjects including puberty, hygiene and appropriate dress codes, but completely skips the subject of drug abuse. The book for boys addresses the dangers of drug abuse and addiction, in addition to puberty and personal hygiene.

For boys, the book is summarized in 23 pages, of which five pages deal with the effects and dangers of drug abuse.

 Teachers’ Discretion

Seyed Amir Ravan, board member of Educational Planning and Research at the Ministry of Education, and head of the authors’ group, who wrote the contents for the books, says school is the best institution which can respond to sensitive questions raised by children in a responsible way, and in the best possible manner.

It is true that youngsters may feel awkward to ask questions about sexual maturity and they may not want to discuss other sensitive issues such as drug addiction with parents, who more often than not evade answering difficult questions posed by children.

Ravan maintains that the books help teachers to initiate discussions in the classroom and answer students’ queries.  “Teachers can use their imagination and discretion to decide to what extent they can and should explain about the issues raised.”

But a major drawback to the concept is that children come from different social backgrounds. In different schools located in different parts of the country, the developmental needs of children may vary, and therefore the issue should be weighed carefully.

As an example, in the capital, there are some districts which are more prone to social problems, like Harandi in District 12 of Tehran Municipality, a disadvantaged area which has the highest number of drug addicts. Consequently, children living in such areas are in need of systemic and regular awareness-raising efforts and a continuum education about illegal drugs when they enter high school.

On the other hand, it may not be necessary that all children receive detailed information on illegal drugs, as according to several global research, teaching children about drugs, a subject they may never have heard may unnecessarily stimulate their interest and curiosity in a negative way. So, why open a Pandora’s Box?

The responsibility for initiating the topics and the extent to which the issues can be discussed openly in the class has been given to teachers, which is a right move; but it is essential that teachers are well-versed, experienced and trained in the field.

 Sidestepping

Another flaw is that although the number of women addicts is rising in the country, the book for girls doesn’t contain any information on substance abuse. This indicates that the authors/authorities are ignorant about girls’ drug addiction or are deliberately sweeping the issue under the rug if not sidestepping it.

As per global studies, boys are more likely than girls to have opportunities to use illegal drugs, however, given an opportunity to use the banned substance for the first time, both are equally likely to do so and move on from “fun” to addiction.

If not in all regions, at least in the risk areas girls are likely to start using drugs and become addicts, studies find.

Hence, it is important and necessary that the content of girls’ books also contain a chapter on substance abuse and teachers can discuss it briefly or expand it based on the circumstances.

According to Iran Drug Control Headquarters, the number of female addicts has increased ten-fold over the last four years. Currently about 10% of addicts are women; therefore why should topics like addiction and its harmful effects not be included in the school curriculum of girls?

Ravan argues that as the rate of women’s addiction is lower than that of men, “we don’t need to explain addiction to girls, since raising the issue may make it commonplace for them.”

But today in the information age, most children have access to the internet, social networking websites, etc; so it is not right to assume that our girls have never heard of addiction or such issues. To do so would be living in a fool’s paradise.

Giving detailed explanations may not be a suitable method, but raising the general awareness about the harm of drug addiction as well as sustaining the information during the adolescent years can be beneficial to both female and male students.  

Mostafa Eqlima, head of the Iranian Association of Social Workers, says “We should promote the need to respond to children’s questions openly and with clarity, not briefly. Half-baked information is worse than ignorance.”

According to figures, at present, at least 2.2 million people in the country are addicts, and if each has a 4-member family, 8.8 million people are, directly or otherwise, struggling with the scourge.

Financialtribune.com