primary school

Health education in primary school: comparative approach of practices in Quebec and France


Although there is consensus on the fact that health and education are interdependent, and that the social situation, such as the state of health of the child, largely conditions learning (Ministry of National Education, 2007 St Léger, 1999), the call for taking health into account at school most often comes from sources outside the education system. In fact, when it comes to legitimizing school action in terms of health, the arguments more frequently come from the field of public health (Jourdan, 2010). However, from the point of view of school actors, the question of knowing what place health education can find in school and what form it can take, must first of all have educational aims.

Depending on the country or region, health education holds a different place in the school landscape (Pommier and Jourdan, 2007). In some countries (Finland, for example), it is a school subject in the same way as mathematics or French; in others, it is a transversal field, associated either with citizenship (France, for example), or with personal development (Portugal, for example). Finally, in some cases, such as in Quebec, health education is present both as a discipline (associated with physical education) and as a cross-cutting field (Turcotte, Gaudreau and Otis, 2007). Thus, the French and Quebec institutional texts leave a significant place to health education (Ministry of National Education, 1998 and 2006; Ministry of Education of Quebec, 2001).

1.  The school context in Quebec and France

Although we can compare the prescriptions contained in the Quebec School Education Program , on the one hand, and those of the French Common Base of Knowledge and Skills , on the other hand, health education does not seem to neither perceived nor integrated in the same way in these two contexts. To understand these differences, it is important to identify the specificities of the school environment in Quebec and France.

In fact, insofar as educational systems are the fruit of a history and are rooted in a specific culture, any reflection on health education at school is necessarily limited, that is to say naturally circumscribed, by the history, the culture, the programs of the country in which it is taught. So much so that the paradigms on which they are based differ from one nation to another. Through the history of its republican school, the French education system is strongly oriented towards citizenship and equal treatment: all students must possess and master a certain number of common knowledge, skills, values ​​and attitudes (Ministry of National Education, 2006). In Quebec, there is a stronger emphasis on the development of individual student skills. In order to allow students to integrate harmoniously into society while appropriating and deepening the knowledge and values ​​on which it is based, it is important to train them so that they are able to participate constructively in its evolution (Ministry of Education, Recreation and Sport, 2006, p.

In Quebec, as in France, school is compulsory from the age of six. If health education is a shared concern, organizational differences can influence practices. For example, in Quebec, the principal is a headteacher and can make decisions relating to school policy. In France, the school director is a teacher like all the others, with a task of management. However, when the school has more than nine classes, the director is released from teaching duties.

2. The inclusion of health education in primary school in Quebec and France

In France as in Quebec, following the major changes that the education systems underwent between the 1960s and 1980s, the place of health education was redefined. Subsequently, the Ministry of National Education in France, in 1998, as well as the Ministry of Education in Quebec, in 2001, during their respective reforms, expressed their desire to strongly develop health education in the school system by sending several circulars encouraging the educational teams to become more involved in this process. The novelty of these injunctions was to anchor health education in and across several disciplines.

3. Theoretical background

To examine how health education is integrated into primary school in Quebec and France, we will first question the notion, then we will analyze its implementation through the comparative filter of identified actions.

4. The notion of health education in question

In research on the subject, we observe the coexistence of a wide diversity of meanings of the notion of health education (Fortin, 2004; Gaudreau, 2000; Otis and Bizzoni-Prévieux, 2008; Otis and Grenier , 2010). Many authors have attempted to clarify this notion and to propose definitions.

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