A recent report shows that more students than ever before are choosing not to drink or take illicit drugs. However, these students also reported very little recollection of their school drug education. Our Education Team wanted to find out why this was the case.
Students don’t remember drug education
The Australian Secondary Students Alcohol and Drug (ASSAD) survey showed that less than half (48%) of students could recall receiving more than one lesson about alcohol and less than half could recall lessons about tobacco or illicit substances in the previous school year.
This question did not ask them to recall what they were taught, simply whether they recalled receiving the lessons at all in the previous year. The results suggested that years 8-10 were the most likely times for students to receive drug education but we believe these numbers are too low. It goes without saying that more than half of schools are providing alcohol and other drug education for their students – so the question is: why are students not remembering it?
1. It is seen as boring and irrelevant
If students are not engaged with any topic, they will not remember it.
If a teacher or presenter cannot engage a class and show students that this information is useful to them, it won’t be remembered. Drug education in particular also needs to be truthful, and align with students’ experience. If the teacher or presenter exaggerates what could go wrong or fails to acknowledge the majority that make good choices – students will tune out. Good education will engage students and once they are listening, provide truthful practical information.
2. There is little or no follow-up
Once students are engaged and listening, the next step is getting them to remember what is talked about. Robert Bjork has spent his career studying memory; what things people remember, what they forget, why this is the case, and what can be done to improve memory in education. Bjork’s model of memory draws on two factors: storage capacity and retrieval capacity. For a person to ‘remember’ something, it needs to be a) committed to memory and b) able to be retrieved when needed.
Both storage and retrieval can be improved through structured re-learning and use of the lessons over time. For drug education to be remembered, there needs to be multiple opportunities for students to hear and recall information. The content of a one-off session will rarely be remembered and rarely be effective. This is one of the reasons why our Education Team encourages teachers to use our program as a support to broader drug and alcohol education within the health curriculum.
3. Teachers are stretched
How many full-time classroom teachers do you know that have loads of spare time? I know a lot of teachers and my answer to that question is precisely: zero. There is a huge expectation on teachers to educate our young people on a huge number of very important topics. Unfortunately, this can mean that they do not have time to get the latest information; or research the evidence for best practice in the topic they are delivering. Teachers need to either be given less to do (unlikely), or they need to be supported by other staff and external services to provide lessons that are effective and memorable!
Drug education needs to be accurate, ongoing, relevant, engaging, and practical for students so that they will connect with the material, remember it and most importantly, use it to inform their choices. Research shows that programs that are interactive, delivered by trained facilitators, and normalise the non-use of alcohol or other drugs are more likely to be effective. It is also important that this education is embedded in a wider health and wellbeing curriculum.
If your school is looking to strengthen their alcohol and other drug education, we can help! Encounter Youth’s Alcohol & Other Drug Education program is designed to align with, and support schools’ health curriculum.