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Story | Research
2 October 2019

Promoting child wellbeing through a unique learning environment

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QF’s efforts to keep children healthy in mind as well as body reflect the importance of mental health to Qatar’s society

Ensuring good mental health among children is vital to a strong society in Qatar and its importance cannot be overlooked, according to a leading researcher within a global Qatar Foundation initiative that aims to help shape the future of healthcare.

Dr. Walid Qoronfleh, Director of Research and Policy Development at the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH), has described the physical, mental and emotional well-being of children as “one of the top priorities” for the nation’s service providers, researchers, policy-makers and practitioners in mental health in Qatar.”

He spoke on the issue as WISH participated in the Family Policy Symposium: Child Well-being in Qatar, hosted by Qatar Foundation (QF) member the Doha International Family Institute (DIFI), where WISH discussed its report on the links between education and health – including mental health – produced in collaboration with the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), also a QF initiative of Qatar Foundation, and the RAND Corporation.

The report focuses on tackling mental health issues by evaluating all the factors that impact child wellbeing at once, rather than analyzing them separately. It also focuses on child protection practices and the challenges that ensuring the well-being of children presents.

Dr. Qoronfleh said that the importance of mental health during childhood years must not be discounted “if we want to maintain a healthy and risk-free society”, adding that most mental health challenges appear before the age of 18. He called for early intervention by doctors, teachers, and family members to help mitigate the challenges that children go through, and said they must be well-informed on the topic of mental health in order to perform this role, adding: “This is a collective effort that everyone should be a part of.”

Qatar’s National Health Strategy 2018-2022 states that ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being for all at all ages is essential to sustainable development. However, Dr. Qoronfleh said challenges face researchers and policy-makers in promoting child well-being in Qatar.

“Qatar is one of the fastest growing countries in the world, economically, culturally and socially,” he explained. “These fast-paced changes pose a challenge to new generations.

“One of these is a generation gap, which means there is a difference of opinion, beliefs, values, work ethics, openness to other cultures, and educational opportunities, between different generations. During school years, children in Qatar are exposed to new cultures and ideologies that may clash with their own cultures and beliefs, which is a challenging situation for a child to find themselves in.

“Additionally, the negative use of technology and social media may also create mental health issues in children.”

Dr. Qoronfleh said WISH aims to find innovative solutions for such challenges in promoting the well-being of children in Qatar. “Since 2015, we have focused our efforts to conducting research, establishing programs and innovating solutions to address these challenges,” he said, describing how the process that WISH is implementing to promote child well-being in Qatar spans several different actions.

First, it looks to engage the community through a local strategy that promotes child well-being by evaluating what children and their families need, and define the roles that will be played by different entities such as healthcare organizations, schools, and NGOs to promote child mental health.

This is followed by illustrating the need for promoting child well-being in all schools and adopting methodologies that enhance students' self-confidence and mutual respect, and encourage anti-bullying behavior, by using praise instead of negative criticism; and by including the teaching of life skills in school curricula, because of their vital role in promoting child well-being – which, Dr. Qoronfleh said, is “no less important than learning math, biology, and physics”.

We are preparing future generations by providing new ideas, through education, that help to promote the well-being of all members of society.

Dr. Walid Qoronfleh

Other actions include training teachers to monitor and promote children’s mental health, providing a safe learning environment where students feel comfortable and supported, and encouraging the use of technology as a positive tool rather than a negative one.

Dr. Qoronfleh highlighted how QF promotes child well-being, through bringing together leading health professionals, teachers and a diverse community to enrich the school experience.

“QF’s Pre-University Education is exemplary in promoting child well-being from a very early age, teaching children how to express themselves by encouraging curiosity, creativity, and autonomy,” he said. “It seeks to build students' skills, encourages them to think critically and helps them become active members of society, promoting the well-being of children.”

According to Dr. Qoronfleh, WISH has also taken many significant steps in this area, including through cross-QF collaborations, and he explained that this extends beyond research and policy work and into establishing community programs that are accessible to all members of society. WISH has collaborated with QF’s Community Development by organizing healthy activities for children with autism, such as swimming, horse-riding, and other sports activities held at Education City, and also partnered with the Mental Health Friends Association (Weyak) to collaborate on mental healthcare initiatives in Qatar.

“WISH also has several research partners in the primary health care field and Hamad Medical Corporation, designed to identify any behavior that might indicate the presence of mental health challenges in young people and finding ways to address these challenges,” he added.

“We are well aware that much effort is needed to make the necessary changes happen, but we are preparing future generations by providing new ideas, through education, that help to promote the well-being of all members of society.”

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