Drug Prevention through Life Skills, Academic Achievement, and School Enrolment

Mentor National Partner Award Winner 2010

IMIFAP (Mexican Institute of Family and Population Research)
IMIFAP enables people to become more responsible and productive by improving their health, education, and financial situation. Pioneering the life-skills and psychological barrier reduction programs “I want to, I can” we recognize that people want to change their lives, their families, and their communities, but have not been given the tools to do so.

Targeting primary school-age children, their parents, and their teachers, the project represents a comprehensive, school-based strategy against school drop-out as a protective factor against drug use. The project was piloted and evaluated with a total of 7,968 children were involved in the project with 4,111 students forming the experimental group and 3,857 forming the control group across the three states of Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, and Chiapas.

Firstly, the project aimed to develop program materials to effectively promote life skills in teachers, parents and children, linked with productive processes of learning and teaching, a supportive environment, and the protective factors against drug use. Once materials were developed, the project aimed to implement the “I want to, I can … be successful in school” program through training workshops with teachers and parents who would replicate the program with children to bring about changes in the above-mentioned spheres. After implementation, the project was evaluated through its quasi-experimental design to assess its results in a scientific manner.

In the first stage of the project, research was conducted in the target communities to identify what community members saw as the most important issues and needs related to academic failure and school dropout, which we understand as risk factors for drug use. Focus groups explored perceptions of academic success, study habits, teachers’ didactic strategies, and school atmosphere, and were conducted with teachers, parents, and students in order to include all stakeholders in this process. Based on the results of this pre-evaluation, the development of life skills emerged as a crucial focus for improving academic achievement and the development of protective factors.

The intervention stage of the project centered on materials developed for the project to promote the life skills most applicable to educational achievement in parents, teachers, and students. These new materials responded to the community-level research on academic achievement and school drop-out and built upon one of IMIFAP’s existing programs, “I want to, I can”, which has proven successful in developing general life skills. These life skills have been shown to be significant protective factors in preventing the use of drugs, and previous projects that have implemented the “I want to, I can” basic program have experienced success in preventing these negative outcomes.

The program materials developed for students, entitled “I want to, I can … be successful in school,” expand upon the six areas of the basic program associated with protection against school dropout: self-knowledge, planning skills, the capacity to pay attention and communicate, creativity, applied scientific thinking, and community participation focused on creating a positive classroom environment. Eighteen activities for children in each school grade were developed to emphasize these life skills.

Training manuals were developed for teachers and parents on how they could support and develop these life skills in both themselves and their children or pupils. The manuals contain materials related to academic performance, new teaching practices to promote self-learning, creating a positive learning environment, and the role of family support in achieving goals in personal development and at school. These materials augment the existing teacher manual for the “I want to, I can” program and IMIFAP’s program for parents, entitled “I want to, I can … learn to be a mother and a father.”

The additional materials, together with the basic program and accompanying training, were given to the experimental group, and the control received only the basic program materials. For teachers and parents in the experimental schools, training workshops were held to provide instruction as to how the materials were to be used in order to effectively promote the development of life skills. Trained IMIFAP personnel conducted these workshops lasting 40 hours for 272 teachers and education officials, and 70 40-hour workshops for approximately 1,600 parents in the experimental group. After the conclusion of the post-evaluation for the project, the additional materials were distributed and workshops conducted with the control group, after which these teachers and parents were able to replicate the program with their students and children.

The “I want to, I can … be successful in school” program has proven itself to be an effective and sustainable method of enhancing protective factors against the use of drugs. The program’s strategy of promoting life skills in primary school children helps them gain the knowledge, skills, and psychosocial competencies that lead to the promotion of health, family integration, and participation in the community. This psychosocial foundation along with the supportive environment developed through the involvement of teachers and parents in the program builds protective factors. Through the enhancement of protective factors along with critical thinking and autonomous decision-making, this project gives children the tools they need to resist drug use and make positive decisions about their future. Teaching children life skills has also been shown to affect lasting behavioral change as they gain the tools to make positive decisions in a variety of contexts and environments.

This was judged to be a professional, comprehensive and sound approach to school based prevention developed and undertaken to a high standard by a reputable organisation based in Mexico City but serving the country of Mexico. The content and approach reflects accepted best practice in drug abuse prevention and has been positively evaluated through a substantive evaluation model. The program would appear to have had a very positive impact on children, teachers and parents as well as the communities involved. The wish to extend and develop the work in the light of the evaluation and work undertaken thus far makes a lot of sense.

The award money would be used to expand this successful program to communities in Mexico City whose youth are at a high risk for drug use. Furthermore, the implementation of this project in a new community and context can expose weaknesses in the program’s methodology and allow for its improvement. Marco Barriga and Angelica Romero, coordinators of this successful project, would oversee this next phase. With the Achievement Award of €20,000, it is estimated that IMIFAP could train 75 teachers and parents who would replicate the program with 375 children. It is expected that another 1,800 individuals would benefit indirectly

IMIFAP was supported in the 1990’s by Mentor in the development of the original “I want...I can” project to include substance abuse prevention in its work. It formed the basis of what was subsequently developed by Mentor Colombia as their school based programme. Mentor’s SAN member (Martha Givaudan) is the Deputy Director of IMIFAP and declared her vested interest in the project and therefore did not contribute to the judging process for this initiative.