Teaching young people about antibiotic resistance raises dilemmas

Uppsala University

Malena Lidar and Eva Lundqvist in the studio.

Malena Lidar and Eva Lundqvist presented their research at a digital workshop at the Uppsala Health Summit.

Photograph: William Baroumas

When teaching about antibiotic resistance, it is not sufficient to rely on biological and medical facts. Pupils also need to be trained to make decisions and prioritisations in complex situations. This is demonstrated by ongoing research presented at a workshop at the Uppsala Health Summit.

Eva Lundqvist, associate professor of didactics.

Photo: David Naylor

In Sweden, we are not required to reach our own decisions about whether to use antibiotics when we are sick, we simply take the medication prescribed by our doctors. However, according to Eva Lundqvist, associate professor of didactics at Uppsala University, what we do need to consider is which food to buy when shopping.

“It might be what kind of meat we buy or whether we should buy halloumi from Cyprus. In such situations, to be able to gather information, weigh up alternatives and prioritise one’s choices is to have what we call action competence. When teaching, it is not enough to have the biological knowledge of how bacteria become resistant: pupils must also be trained to act when confronted with a problem.”

Eva and colleague Malena Lidar, also an associate professor of didactics, have developed teaching materials in collaboration with a group of teachers, taking the teachers’ proven experience and subject didactics research as points of departure. Their project is funded by the Swedish Institute for Educational Research.

“Our goal has been to create lessons that are engaging, by building on pupils’ experiences and identifying authentic problems that pupils can clearly see the relevance of,” says Malena Lidar.

Collaboration with teachers

Lessons held by several secondary and upper-secondary teachers in Uppsala have been documented and analysed in order to improve teaching materials. What do pupils find difficult and where do they get stuck?

Malena Lidar, associate professor of didactics.

Photo: David Naylor

“One difficulty in terms of finding authentic assignments is that antibiotic resistance is not as acute a problem in Sweden as it is in many other countries,” says Malena Lidar.

This became readily apparent when the researchers participated in the Uppsala Health Summit, an international policy arena on antimicrobial resistance attended digitally by 600 unique delegates. Eva and Malena led a workshop with 25 participants from various parts of the world.

“We come from different cultures and had different views on how to teach pupils about antibiotic resistance. It was very exciting to consider the various perspectives,” says Malena Lidar.

“We received confirmation that the dilemmas we work with are highly topical and widely discussed. When it comes to using antibiotics preventively or in animal husbandry, education has a major role to play in changing behaviour,” says Eva Lundqvist.

Are schools important in communicating the issue of antibiotic resistance?

“Schools here in Sweden, and in most other countries, reach pretty much all children and young people, irrespective of their socioeconomic status, gender and ethnicity. If parents and families are also involved, schools have the potential to reach a large percentage of the population.”

Making space for teaching

Schools today have a great deal to teach and limited time in which to do so. It is a challenge to give more space to the work with action competence and antibiotic resistance. The teaching of antibiotic resistance can be based on similar principles used in the teaching of other sustainability issues, such as climate change.

“There is a need for teaching that helps pupils to be aware of and recognise the connections between the many perspectives that are simultaneously relevant to understanding the problem. Schools must nurture future specialists but they should also be fostering others who, even if they do not specialise in biology or medicine, need to be able to make sensible and wise choices now and for the future,” says Eva Lundqvist.

Annica Hulth

Facts: Uppsala Health Summit

  • Antimicrobial resistance is an urgent global threat to human and animal health. This year’s Uppsala Health Summit, which took place online on 15–18 March, discussed how behaviour change across various sectors of society can slow down this worrying trend.
  • The meeting included plenary lectures that are open to everyone and workshops for invited experts from around the world.

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