The Malta Independent 25 April 2019, Thursday

TMID Editorial: Children in the 21st century - The kids are doing all right

Wednesday, 6 February 2019, 10:38 Last update: about 4 months ago

It is not often enough that one can state that the kids are doing all right, but every once in a while there is some encouraging piece of news or a promising initiative aimed to look after not only the people who are able to cast votes, but, rather, those who can’t – the country’s children.

One such piece of good news came out yesterday, with a European Union report showing that Maltese under 16s were the fifth-healthiest in the bloc in 2017, with 98% of Maltese under 16s in good or very good health, compared to 95% across the EU.

When it comes to kids under five years of age, Mata ranked highest, with 99 per cent reported to be in good or very good health.

The EU findings, however, appear to jar with recent findings from Malta’s own Health Department, which recently released the shocking statistic that no less than 40 per cent of Maltese school-aged children are suffering from the plague of childhood obesity.

This was according to a study carried out across all state, church and independent schools across the country.

And as such, it is difficult to tell whether we have the EU’s healthiest or unhealthiest kids as these two different sets of data appear to contradict each other.

Maltese adults, however, are also facing diet and lifestyle related health risks – most likely as a result of their upbringing.  Malta’s heart attack death rate is also above the EU average, while cancer rates remain worryingly high as does the country’s rate of diabetes.

And now that children have just about passed the mid-academic-year hump, it would also be interesting to see just how the new homework guidelines given out by the government before the year started panned out, and how students are progressing.

As from this scholastic year, the amount of time children are expected to be hitting the books after school hours was slashed considerably under new guidelines - to maximums of half an hour a day for primary school children, one hour for middle school children and a maximum of eight hours a week for secondary school children.

The idea is to give today’s children, who are, generally speaking, already hard-pressed with busy schedules, more time to breathe, to take part in more sports, social and cultural activities, to play, spend quality time with their families and to simply rest…in short, more time to be kids.

According to research carried out by the education ministry, these include stress, burning the midnight oil working on assignments, tiredness and lack of sleep, anxiety, and extra pressure.  Children, under normal circumstances, should have no business experiencing such problems, but extensive research and evidence on both the local and international levels have shown that these are the very real effects of excessive homework.

Findings by the World Health Organisation in 2016 revealed that Maltese 11, 13 and 15 year olds are definitely feeling the strain of homework, and that they, on average, are given twice the amount of homework as their European peers.

This comes on top of other stresses they identified, including:  exam stress, the need to study obligatory subjects; and having to choose subjects from as early on as in Form 3.

Such stresses also take their toll on children and their health and, many experts agree, it is all interrelated.

But, all things considered, the fact that we are taking such an interest in children’s health and education, and that we are looking at alternative ways of providing the latter, bodes well for the next generation.

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