Learning how to learn
While Whatsup absorbed all this rich discussion and insights, Sholmes was in the other workshop titled ‘Improving use at local level: Education and empowerment’. Here the presentations were all about using creative techniques and approaches to enable students or communities to learn concepts in medicine and health.
What all the teaching and learning strategies had in common was they were able to bridge the usual gap between instructors and their audience by using role play, games, problem-based learning. In other words, they were able to engage their students through a variety of activities that enabled effective learning.
The first presentation was about teaching rational use of medicine to medical college students using an educational card-based, role-playing game that had been used in the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands and the UK. On evaluation the technique was found to result in a significant increase in knowledge and gave students the feel of a real doctor-patient consultation.
A presentation from Ecuador challenged listeners to think about how to connect RUM to the community. The project empowered medical students to learn about the rational use of antibiotics by directly investigating the social and economic factors that drive antibiotic resistance. Students first verified which antibiotics were freely available for purchase for agribusiness. Next, they went to ask for and buy an antibiotic as a growth promoter in a local vet store – they were sold an antibiotic that is reserved for last resort use. They then documented and questioned the publicity in mass media that encourages the indiscriminate use of antibiotics. The entire teaching process about the pharmacology of antibiotics, using problem-based learning and playful participatory learning such as making games and making memes, awakened the imagination of students. The approach empowered students by putting them at the centre and by learning through doing, they became aware of RUM and were able to solve real world cases using comprehensive strategies.
Evaluation showed students got good grades for the module taught using this method, learning was sustained, and it stimulated a passion and imagination for good use of medicines. It is a low-cost strategy and adaptable – but does take a big-time investment by teachers.
Body = Soil
The next speaker was the same schoolteacher from Argentina who spoke earlier in the morning about how children really learn through their direct experiences. Now she gave a more detailed description of her gardening and microbes project.
Essentially, the project aimed to ensure that children and school teachers discover the microbial world that lives in the school garden, know the importance of its role in the fertility of the soil, its characteristics and diversity, and carry out a teaching and learning process that includes different activities that relate the garden with the care of one’s own and community health. This in turn helped them all understand the importance of preventing infectious diseases, reducing the use of antibiotics and taking a critical look at factors that affect health, such as water, pesticides, pollution and food.
“What a simple and straightforward way to learn about the human body, health and disease – by playing with soil, seeds, sunshine, water and fresh air” thought Sholmes to himself, clapping as the presentation ended. After all, the human body really was quite similar to soil, impacted as it was by the ecological cycles of nutrition, moisture, air, sunshine and lots of microbial activity.
For all their supposed intelligence, at the core, humans are basically made of the same material and have similar metabolism to that of plants and other animals. Like them, humans too are given life and nurtured by elements of our planet, Pachamama or Mother Earth as the indigenous people of the Andean region call it.
So why have these basic insights, about the most important factors determining everyone’s health, been completely erased from public consciousness?
‘Ah! I shouldn’t have to tell myself my favourite line – follow the money trail! It’s all about human greed!’ said Sholmes to himself, amazed at how easy it was to fool people into believing exactly the opposite of what was true. With a look of disgust on his face, Sholmes left the room to check what was happening in the third workshop next door.
To be continued…