By April Jiang
The empowerment of children brought by educational health and safety services acts as an effective tool for deeper understanding and engaging future decisions. The design of ‘Life Education’s’ Healthy Harold program, represents a successful platform that attracts the engagement of children in the decision-making toward their health and safety. The service reveals the effectiveness of empathy as a tool enabling immersion rather than confrontation as a basis for understanding.
Healthy Harold is a non-for-profit mobile service funded by the government that has been successfully operating for 40 years. More than 6 million young Australians have participated in the program since 1979, resulting Healthy Harold to become an Australian icon. The success of the program is reflected in the decades of service and in the outbursts toward the government’s decision of withdrawing funds in 2017. The power of social media was revealed in the immediate backlash of nostalgic Harold supporters, that forced the government to change their decision.
The giraffe puppet signifies friendly and comforting connotations for children, while heightening their attention, and ultimately achieving deeper understandings of health topics. The character of Harold is successfully manifested; being one that is funny, cute and memorable to the kids, enabling a reason for them to listen to him. It’s important to have “a platform like Life Education that reaches students on their level and helps educate them about the choices they will face” (Tran 2019). For children, there is an importance to the attitude brought by learning that ultimately saturates their attention and understanding. Overtime, although “children have changed in their knowledge and their responses to questions about drugs, their level of enthusiasm for learning is the same.” (Schilt 2017)
Similarly, in a paper written by Lynne Hall, she addresses the impact of affective interactions on the feelings and emotions of children, achieved through empathising with synthetic characters. Through this she discovers that “empathising with characters permits a deeper exploration and understanding of sensitive social and personal issues” (Hall 2005). This is evident in joy brought to children through interacting with Harold. By sharing subtle examples of his healthy lifestyle, it encourages children through their curiosity of the character.
In being a program that is designed very specifically for the appeal of children, it acts as a solution in providing information, understanding, skills and strategies, promoting safe decisions about their own health and well-being, in an empowering way. As founder of Life education, Ted Noffs states,
“Let’s not frighten our kids with scare tactics so they act in ways that we think are best for them. Let’s motivate and empower them so they can and will actively draw on their own knowledge to make safer and healthier choices.”Tedd Noffs, Founder of Life Education Australia.
The elements of empowerment and encouragement become effective tools toward the development on their future growth and decisions. This allows children the opportunity to willingly be immersed in a learning experience as opposed to being frightened or confronted with threatening or displeasing campaigns unfit for their age.
In response to the Indonesian epidemic of tobacco usage, there is potential in similarly focusing on the immersion of an empathetic and educational experience. Since there is a high demand for cigarettes even for young children (Tjandra 2018), there seems to be a low awareness of health and safety in schools. By utilising the elements and tools identified in Life Education’s Healthy Harold, children can be empowered and encouraged to eliminate tobacco activity.
- Gregory, H. 2017, ‘Healthy Harold and Life Education survive after government promises funding,’ Newcastle Herald, 31 May, viewed 22 November 2019,
- Hall, L. 2005, Achieving Empathic Engagement Through Affective Interaction with Synthetic Characters, electronic book, volume 3784, Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, viewed 22 November 2019,
- Life Education, 2019, About us, Education program for children, Life Education, Australia, viewed 22 November 2019,
- Schilt, S. V. 2017, ‘Life Education and Healthy Harold,’ The Saturday Paper, 8-14 July, viewed 22 November 2019,
- Tran, C. 2019, ‘A walk down memory lane! As iconic giraffe puppet Healthy Harold celebrates his 40th birthday – a look at how the Life Education van has changed over the years,’ Daily Mail Australia, February, viewed 22 November 2019,
- Yandaran State school, 2017, Yandaran State School students and Member for Burnett Stephen Bennett at the Life Education van, News Mail, viewed 22 November 2019,