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Importance of developing public health programmes for preservice teachers

23rd March 2022

Author: Aygil Takır, Faculty of Education, Eastern Mediterranean University, Famagusta, North Cyprus

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During the current COVID-19 pandemic, a significantly large number of countries are encouraging people to apply hygienic health measures, such as physical distancing, frequent hand washing, and avoiding leaving home unnecessarily.

Of course, these strategies require a high level of knowledge about COVID-19, fostering attitudes among people to recognise and practice these measures properly. Protective measures potentially prevent the population from becoming infected or reduce disease spreading. It is critical to carefully choose reliable sources of information during the pandemic. The public may sometimes find the correct information among hundreds of information sources. It is necessary to properly understand the information sources that people use to pawn COVID-19. The public needs to access reliable information that fulfils their needs to engage in protective health behaviours.

I conducted a research study in Northern Cyprus to identify information sources and the knowledge of preservice teachers about COVID-19 infection. As teacher candidates and pioneers in society, teachers are the agents of change in communities. Preservice teachers’ awareness levels of COVID-19 affect the knowledge of the public. Furthermore, identifying preservice teachers' information sources and knowledge constitute a general reference to guide the policymakers to convey the most effective strategies related to controlling the COVID-19 crisis and inform the public so the required educational interventions can be made. 

In this study, preservice teachers were asked to indicate their primary sources of reliable information about COVID-19. Among the sources, "Health unit/Health care worker" was the most reliable source indicated by 45.6% of the preservice teachers. Preservice teachers seemed to resort less to the other sources: "Newspapers, radio, or TV" (13.6%), "Social media (i.e. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)" (6.8%), and "Local or community leaders" (1%). On the other hand, results show that at a considerable rate (30.1%) of preservice teachers believed that there is no source of reliable information about COVID-19.

This finding indicates that the government's and policy makers' responsibility is to inform the public transparently. Through family, friends, and community leaders, word of mouth is played a significant role in disseminating information. Results showed that preservice teachers did not prefer to receive information about COVID-19 from friends, family and community leaders. They preferred to gain information from individuals (health unit/health care workers) with enough education to understand and analyse the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic professionally.

In the same research, preservice teachers were asked to specify their knowledge about the measures that health experts recommend to prevent infection and slow the spread of COVID-19. Results showed that preservice teachers know the importance of washing hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (96.1%), maintaining at least 1-meter distance between themselves and people coughing or sneezing (95.1%), and avoiding touching their face unless they have just washed their hands (96.1%). Almost all participated preservice teachers (99%) have a mask to cover their mouth and nose when they leave their house. Most preservice teachers avoid leaving their homes unnecessarily (85.4%). They have acquired knowledge about people who can spread the virus without showing any symptoms (85.4%), and it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it (85.6%). All these findings showed that preservice teachers were knowledgeable about the measures that health experts recommend to prevent infection and slow the spread of COVID-19.

Preservice teachers were asked to indicate the situations that have increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the social containment efforts to control the spread of the virus. Results showed that more than half of the participating preservice teachers stated that “Many people have lost their jobs or their ability to earn wages, and some have lost their business” (55.3%). The other situations mentioned by the preservice teachers were “Schools have closed, and the children are unable to continue their studies at home” (19.4%), “People are unable to go to the bank or get cash for daily expenses” (10.7%), and "More people are becoming very anxious or depressed" (9.7%). Results also showed that a minor of the preservice teachers believed that there was more violence among people in the community (2.9%) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Preservice teachers preferred to mention the economic effects of the pandemic while they were expected to mention the problems that occurred in the education sector first. Results of the study approved that COVID-19 negatively affected the daily lives of preservice teachers economically.

According to the WHO, COVID-19 would not be the last emerging virus, and it might be followed by new viruses in the future at a higher rate than at this time. Therefore, more information about viruses and their spreading ways should be made available. In this way, it might facilitate the identification of risk factors for future emerging viral infections/diseases and enable communities to deal with them effectively and rapidly. It suggested that education faculties implement health education programmes about viral infections/infectious diseases to preservice teachers through required credit courses. Since the teachers are the pioneers of a community, these programmes help them enhance their knowledge regarding viral infections/diseases to implement protective health measures directly. Person-to-person information sharing is inexpensive and not burdened by technological limits. Potentially, it can also be disposed to inaccuracies and propagate dangerous misinformation. However, these potential risks can be prevented through government training to selected partners with high levels of trust and respect within the community, such as teachers and preservice teachers.