Empowering Young Minds: “Healthy Lifestyle” Clubs Now Mandatory for Grades 5 and 7 in Armenian Schools

The integration of “Healthy Lifestyle” club activities into the curricula of fifth and seventh grades in Armenian schools has become mandatory. This initiative, based on the success of a pilot program in the Tavush region and aligned with a new state standard for general education, is a collaborative effort supported by UNFPA, UNESCO, UNICEF, and WFP. Since 2020, these organizations have been working in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture, and Sports of the Republic of Armenia (MoESCS) to implement this curricular reform.

In 2023, comprehensive teacher manuals with scripted lesson plans and student handouts were developed to facilitate “Healthy Lifestyle” club activities for fifth and seventh-grade students. Subsequently, in early 2024, six thousand sets of these manuals and handouts were distributed to all schools across the country.

Expert Guidance for Journey from Pilot to Nationwide Implementation

The transition from the pilot program in Tavush to a nationwide implementation involved the formation of a multidisciplinary expert group, initiated by the MoESCS and UN agencies. This group played a pivotal role in creating scientifically accurate and age-appropriate manuals with lesson plans. The experts also conducted extensive training for teachers in the Tavush region, preparing them to pilot the new “Healthy Lifestyle” school club activities. In the past year, the expert group observed 60 lessons in 41 Tavush schools, monitoring the efforts of 55 teachers and approximately 800 pupils.

Anna Barfyan, a Youth Analyst at the UNFPA Armenia country office, emphasized the significance of the monitoring initiatives, stating,

“In light of the monitoring outcomes, we implemented essential revisions to the manuals, encompassing modifications to exercise types, delivery methods, and lesson durations. These adaptations guarantee that educators receive more comprehensive and impactful instructional manuals.”

Lusine Aleksanyan, Head of the Evaluation and Development Department at the National Center for Education Development and Innovations of the Republic of Armenia, underscores that “Healthy Lifestyle” is not an entirely novel subject. She notes,

“It was formerly incorporated into the curriculum for grades 8-11, with certain health education components addressed in the ‘Me and the Surrounding World’ class designed for younger students. The development of health education curriculum for grades 5-7 guarantees seamless knowledge continuity, delivering information gradually for each age group and considering age-specific nuances.”

The healthy lifestyle manuals cover crucial topics such as healthy eating, physical activity, hygiene, reproductive health, safety, mental and emotional well-being, relationships, prevention of harmful habits, violence and exploitation. Mrs. Marina Melkumova, the national health education expert, explained that the manuals provide engaging methodologies not only to raise awareness but also to positively impact attitudes and develop skills for healthy living. She states,

“This approach helps in cultivating the essential skills required for healthy living, fostering positive and enjoyable relationships, and making informed decisions.”

According to Mr. Tigran Yepoyan, UNESCO Advisor for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, UNESCO recognizes the transformative potential of education in shaping the lives of children and young people, as well as the world around them. He adds,

“Education holds the power to bring about positive change. Hence, UNESCO actively supports countries in developing and implementing high-quality, comprehensive health and well-being education. Children and young individuals who receive such education are more likely to lead healthy lives.”

Arev Nersisyan, Principal of Berd School No. 3, provides firsthand insights into the transformative impact of “Healthy Lifestyle” club activities. She articulates,

“These activities address crucial topics, equipping students to navigate diverse situations and make well-informed decisions. While understanding the internal structure of a raindrop may not be life-changing, participation in ‘Healthy Lifestyle’ classes prepares children for real-life tests – encompassing emotional, health related, and social challenges they may encounter.”

Mrs. Nersisyan underscores the remarkable engagement of students in the club, despite it being scheduled as the last lesson of the day when children might be fatigued and hungry. She observes,

“Participation in the ‘Healthy Lifestyle’ club is exceptional; every student is actively involved and genuinely interested in the topics. For instance, today’s discussion on ‘HIV and AIDS’ holds particular relevance, considering the ongoing epidemic.” 

Voices from Tavush: Students Reflect on the Impact of “Healthy Lifestyle” Classes

Artyom Melikyan, an 8th-grade student at Berd School No. 3, shares insights:

“Our learning focuses on practical aspects like planning our day. While things don’t always go as planned, it is still beneficial to learn planning. We’re also cultivating a sense of empathy; for instance, when we witnessed bullying, we intervened and explained to the guys the impact of their actions.”

Ashot Sargsyan, also in 8th grade at Berd School No. 3, articulates the class’s broader impact:

“We are trying to foster kindness and ethical living. Understanding others’ perspectives and being ready to lend a helping hand are lessons we take away.”

Marine, an 8th-grade student at Artsvaberd Secondary School, expresses her specific interests:

“I found lessons on infections and the harmful effects of tobacco particularly engaging and informative.”

Edita, an 8th-grade student at Berd School No. 3, highlights the interactive nature of the lessons:

“The classes are captivating; teachers use slides and videos for discussion. The friendly atmosphere encourages us to freely express our thoughts and opinions.”

Gayane Vardazaryan, 8th grade, from the Choratan community, values the teacher’s approach:

“The teacher’s unbiased attitude is noteworthy. They avoid favoritism, listen to us without judgment, and never insult anyone. If we make mistakes, they patiently explain and guide us.”

Sofi, an 8th-grade student at Artsvaberd Secondary School, emphasizes the interpersonal communitation:

“Our understanding of each other deepens as the teacher poses questions, fostering discussions that allow us to get to know each other better.”

Expanding the Reach: Mentors and Teachers as Ambassadors

To further expand the reach of the positive experience from the Tavush region, teacher trainers were prepared. Out of over 500 applicants, 100 carefully selected teachers underwent a six-day intensive course to become “Healthy Lifestyle” mentors. Between October and November 2023, these mentors trained 1,000 teachers across Armenia, providing them with the knowledge and skills needed to deliver the “Healthy Lifestyle” curriculum.

Lusine Aleksanyan, commenting on the mentor selection process, emphasized the critical nature of selecting individuals who share the values of the program. She clarified,

“Their personal dedication to a healthy lifestyle, their worldview, values, and their grasp of the program topics were all pivotal factors contributing to the success of teacher training.”

Mrs. Aleksanyan further elucidated, stating, “Their enthusiasm for implementing innovative teaching methodologies was effectively transmitted to the educators.”

Tsovinar Harutyunyan, the head of UNFPA Armenia, recognizes the pivotal role that teachers play in shaping students’ engagement and learning outcomes.

“Mentors and teachers serve as channels for this valuable knowledge and skill set,” she affirms. “UNFPA is proud to support these educational reforms and extends its profound gratitude to all the teachers who stepped forward. Through their dedication and hard work, we can expect a wave of positive behavioral changes in the upcoming generation, equipped with knowledge to make responsible and informed health choices.”

Narratives from Mentors and Educators

Arpine Hovhannisyan, an instructor at Hrazdan N1 and Tsaghkadzor secondary schools, advocates for the inclusion of the subject even in preschools. According to her, the new educational standards mandate that subject knowledge should be interconnected with life, and this club activity precisely achieves that. She explains,

“It instills responsibility for oneself, fostering love and care not only for relatives and friends but also for nature.”

Reflecting on her preparation as a teacher, Mrs. Hovhannisyan shares,

“The training significantly contributed to my understanding and passion for this subject. The instructors were highly skilled professionals, making the training sessions genuinely captivating. Now, I eagerly prepare for each club lesson with great enthusiasm.”

In her role as a mentor, Mrs. Hovhannisyan has trained over fifty teachers. She acknowledges the challenges of diverse backgrounds among trainees, including physical education teachers, basic military training instructors, psychologists, and teachers of humanitarian subjects. Despite these differences, they collectively navigate questions about content and teaching methods, staying connected to share experiences.

Mrs. Hovhannisyan took initiative by organizing a meeting with student parents to familiarize them with the new club. She states,

“Given that it is a recent addition, I wanted parents to understand the topics we would discuss. We decided to conduct open classes, allowing parents to join and observe the lessons in progress.”

Mihran Melkumyan, a basic military training instructor at Akunk secondary school in the Kotayk region, transitioned to become a “Healthy Lifestyle” mentor. He facilitated teacher preparation sessions, emphasizing,

“The success of health education classes hinges on the effectiveness of the new methodology. It enables us to better engage with pupils and enrich their learning experience.”



UNESCO IITE expresses gratitude to the UNFPA and UNICEF offices in Armenia for their contributions, including photos and content, to this article.