News and Opinions  –  2023

Antibiotic smart students and teachers: “Awareness is the single most effective cure against antibiotic resistance”

Share the article


The students and teachers at Rosendal upper secondary school in Uppsala, Sweden, are pioneers in developing Antibiotic Smart education. The teachers Sofie Mellberg and Ida Solum have collaborated with both scientists and fellow educators to create a curriculum on antibiotic resistance. As a pilot school for Antibiotic Smart Sweden, they are testing new criteria on educational materials and activities to promote the awareness of effective antibiotics as a fundamental component of society.

Sofie Mellberg and Ida Solum standing in the highschool lab wearing lab coats.
Teachers Sofie Mellberg and Ida Solum in the school lab. Photo: Ava Rimdahl, ReAct Europe.

Sofie and Ida, how did you develop the educational material? 

– We thought about the materials and activities that were readily available to us and scanned through information available online in both English and Swedish. We became well versed in different didactic models and worked to develop both lectures and different exercises. We also received help from the Uppsala Antibiotic Center, says Ida.

–  We and the other teachers in the project implemented the teaching in our classes and recorded the students in order to study how they comprehended the material. We tested it, analyzed, discussed and persisted in its development until we had great material, adds Sofie.

Two high school teachers in a school lab holding samples of antibiotics.
The material is not only about antibiotic resistance, it also teaches the students about acting sustainably and making informed decisions. Photo: Ava Rimdahl, ReAct Europe

When learning about the dark future that antibiotic resistance may bring and the urgency of the problem, many may feel daunted. The educational material builds on promoting action competence and encouraging change on both an individual and societal level.

– The material is not only about creating an understanding of what antibiotic resistance is and how it works. It also teaches the students about acting sustainably and making informed decisions. All of this is based on knowledge, partly on behavior. But this knowledge has to be applied to everyday situations for it to resonate, says Ida.

She continues:

–  As an individual, you have to understand which actions are possible and what consequences they have. We have to help the students reach action competence – so that they feel that they both want to and can change. The feeling of being able to impact is also helpful for relieving possible anxiety toward antibiotic resistance.

How have the students reacted?

Sofie says:

– The students have expressed that they have learned a lot, but when we analyzed the teaching further we discovered that a few had grown to fear bacteria. Some were affected by “antibiotic-guilt”, meaning that they felt embarrassed over previous, potentially unnecessary, use of antibiotics. After that we changed the material – the purpose is not to frighten or shame. Right now, we emphasize that it is the doctor who is responsible for deciding if a patient should be prescribed antibiotics or not.

Image of the two high school teachers sitting in the school yard talking.
A word of advice from Sofie Mellberg and Ida Solum: As a teacher it is always a challenge to make time for all the components of a course, but the students learn a lot from the material. Photo: Ava Rimdahl, ReAct Europe.

What advice would you give to other teachers who are interested in using these materials?

Sofia says:

– As a teacher it is always a challenge to make time for all the components of a course, but the students learn a lot from the material. Not only facts about antibiotic resistance but also how different parts of society affect the issue. For instance, animal husbandry in the food industry and drug development help to explain how antibiotic resistance is a global issue and how we both affect and are affected by people in different parts of the world. Therefore, we think that it is worthwhile to spend time on the material.

In the beginning the students experienced a very dark picture of the situation. The students Fabiha Dastagir, Fanny Florin, Ingrid Jönsson och Ludvig von Malmborg have reflected upon their experiences.

– We were struck by the size and complexity of the problem and how many different parts of society are affected. Besides humans using antibiotics for different diseases, the problem also involves animal husbandry, waste from the pharmaceutical industry and why it is not possible to “just” develop new antibiotics.

Another student agrees and says:

– But with more knowledge about how to work against resistance, it became more hopeful.

The curriculum lay emphasis on individual action against antibiotic resistance, providing tools to engage others in the issue. Educating consumers and promoting awareness is essential.

– When you have knowledge of how the problem functions, for instance by understanding why it is useless to medicate with antibiotics against virus infections, it is easier to understand the issue and make wiser decisions, adds one of the students.

Ida holding an antibiotic sample from the lab
Sofie holding a sample from the lab. Photo: Ava Rimdahl, ReAct Europe.

As a part of the curriculum, some of the students at Rosendal High School held lectures and activities for fellow peers and younger students. While lecturing, the students quickly learned the importance of tailoring the language and topics to the students’ individual areas of interest and varying age groups.

– In a natural science class where students know what bacteria are and how they work, you can talk about bacteria and their function. But in a social science class it is important to emphasize antibiotic resistance as a societal problem.

Another student adds:

– I remember one occasion when we spoke to a social science class, where they saw clear connections to globalization which they had recently discussed. What could follow if the access to antibiotics increased in countries that don’t have proper access currently but who also have a societal structure which makes it difficult to have proper guidelines? This captured the student’s interest and became a good segue into a discussion about what antibiotic resistance is.

Antibiotic resistance is a complex and cross cutting issue which involves and affects everything from health, to agriculture, development and finance. Therefore, it is often perceived as difficult to both explain and understand.

One of the students gives us a word of advice:

– If you inform others, you really have to filter through and bring forward the most important aspects. By doing this you learn things yourself too. The most important conclusion is that awareness is the single most effective cure against antibiotic resistance.

Image of the high school teachers standing outside and smiling towards the camera.
Ida Solum and Sofie Mellberg agree: if you inform others, you have to bring forward the most important aspects. By doing this you learn things yourself too. Photo: Ava Rimdahl, ReAct Europe.

About Antibiotic Smart Sweden

  • The Antibiotic Smart Sweden initiative aims to inspire several actors in society on the importance of antibiotics by engaging communities and individuals from different sectors.
  • The role of education is central in the work against resistance. Informing students about bacteria, the function of antibiotics, how antibiotic resistance occurs and how it can be prevented is important for a sustainable future.
  • The Antibiotic Smart Sweden initiative started in 2019 and is led by the Swedish Public Health Agency and Research Institutes of Sweden (RISE) in collaboration with ReAct Europe and the Swedish Strategic Program against Antimicrobial Resistance (Strama). This with funding from Sweden’s Innovation Agency – Vinnova. Several municipalities and administrative regions are also partners. Numerous professionals and pilot sites are engaged.
  • Click to learn more about Antibiotic Smart Sweden.

Educational material: Save Antibiotics with Knowledge and Action

The educational material “Save antibiotics with knowledge and action” is developed in collaboration with teachers and scientists and contains informational resources and educational material to be used on both secondary and upper secondary school students.

Click to find the material “Save antibiotics with knowledge and action” (in Swedish).

Teachers Ida Solum and Sofie Mellberg have also been active in creating a newspaper for Rosendals High School’s biotechnology profile which involves both students and teachers at the school.

Click to learn more about the newspaper for Rosendals High School (in Swedish).

More from "2023"