DepEd urged to pursue healthy school program nationwide

A non-governmental organization promoting a safe environment for children today urged the Department of Education (DepEd) to embark on a nationwide program that will promote healthy and sustainable values and practices in all schools.

The EcoWaste Coalition called upon Education Secretary Armin Luistro to consider a “National Healthy School Program” that will build on the department’s ban on junk foods.

DepEd this week conveyed its support to a recommendation by the World Health Organization (WHO) to ban junk foods in schools and playgrounds to promote healthy diet and curb obesity among school-aged kids.

“While commending the ban on junk foods in schools, we urge the DepEd to go further by embarking on a holistic program that will promote a healthy school community that is conducive to well-rounded and well-balanced learning and development,” said educator Dr. Leah Primitiva Samaco-Paquiz, Secretary of the EcoWaste Coalition.

“A ‘healthy school program’ will provide guidance on policies and regulations that should be put in place to create a healthful and safe school environment not only in the canteen but in the entire school setting,” she said.

“The suggested program will not start from scratch given the various health and environmental initiatives that have been undertaken by DepEd and other national agencies,” she noted.

The EcoWaste Coalition has put forward a 13-point proposal that it would like to be reflected in the suggested DepEd’s “healthy school program,” especially for preparatory, primary, elementary and secondary schools :

1.Ban junk foods as well as those containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and ensure that only safe and nutrient-rich foods are offered in schools.

2.Re-introduce vegetable gardening as regular student activity.

3.Enforce “Zero Waste” resource management, including waste prevention, reduction, recycling and composting pursuant to R.A. 9003, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act.

4. Adopt “green,” non-toxic procurement policy for all school purchases, especially for electronic and electrical products.

5.Ensure proper management of school-generated hazardous waste such as electronic waste like spent mercury-containing lamps and broken computers and TVs.

6.Ensure the use of only “kid-safe” chemicals and products in schools and the use of safer alternatives, including non-chemical substitutes.

7.Enforce “no smoking” policy in schools as embodied in several DepEd’s orders on controlling tobacco use among children and youth.

8.Enforce “clean air” policy in the school: no smoking, no open burning, no smoke belching vehicles and no car idling.

9. Strict use of no-lead, no-mercury paints in classrooms, playgrounds and other school facilities.

10.Eliminate use of mercury thermometers and other mercury-containing equipment in schools in line with DepEd Memorandum Circular 160-2010 reiterating DOH A.O 20-2008, the “Gradual Phase-Out of Mercury in All Philippine Health Care Facilities and Institutions.”

11.Ban use of mercury and other toxic chemicals in school laboratory and related activities.

12.Promote the use of safe school supplies consistent with DOH Memorandum Circular 118-2010, the “Health Advisory on the Selection of School Supplies and Other Products.”

13. Launch a yearly search for “Healthy Schools” to recognize and popularize successful practices in making schools safe and healthy.

A conference involving all stakeholders, including student groups, parent-teacher associations and environmental and health organizations, is essential to achieve broad unity on the scope, objectives and practical applications of the suggested “healthy school program,” the EcoWaste Coalition said.

“We know that there are a lot more elements of a ‘healthy school program’ that should be fleshed out to ensure a school environment that will support the physical, intellectual, mental and emotional health and well-being of all Filipino children,” Paquiz pointed out.

Aside from the EcoWaste Coalition, other groups such as the Ban Toxics, Consumer Right to Safe Food, Health Care Without Harm and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives are keen to support efforts by the education sector to create healthy and safe schools for all.