Need for sexuality education in schools can’t be downplayed

Monday July 6 2020

Basis: The major debate on the sexuality

Basis: The major debate on the sexuality education framework lies behind the development of sexuality education curricula, and programmes based on the Uganda’s cultural values. Photo/file 

By Ashita Chopra

Today, sexuality education is one of the most debated subjects; often people think educating on sexuality or talking about sexuality related topics to children will pollute their innocent minds.
However, Catherine Nguchie, a parent of four children, believes it to be a crucial subject that needs to be taught to the children at school level and the teaching must be age appropriate.

Nguchie, who also mentors people on sexuality related issues on several occasions, says only 10 per cent of parents might educate their own child, as she herself finds it difficult to talk to her own 14-year-old daughter, she says,
“Personally, even I am not able to sit down and talk to my daughter about it (sexuality education), as she might fear to open up, when compared to her peers or maybe her teacher.”

Sexuality education was taken off the shelf in 2016, when government through the Ministry of Gender, banned it in schools.
This big step was implemented, when they discovered sexual reproductive literature in more than 100 schools included sexual orientation and a basis for teaching homosexuality that was against Uganda’s cultural values.
But in 2018, the Ministry of Education introduced first ever framework for sexuality education termed NSEF (National Sexuality Education Framework) with an aim to educate and provide sexuality education in the formal education setting that imbibes Uganda’s cultural values.
Two years later, the vision seems to be blur, as a number of stakeholders including religious institutions are still contemplating and making decisions to amend certain directives in the sexuality education framework that adheres to the cultural values.

Uncertainity: The question is when and how the
Uncertainity: The question is when and how the implementation will be successful, as the Education Ministry is still deciding on the fate and implementation of the framework in the school curriculum. PHOTO/FILE.

Private innitiatives
A Christian-based school in Kampala took an initiative to mentor the students about sexuality education outside their curriculum, when they (school) found their students to be much curious about sex education.
Speaking to Daily Monitor, Flavia K Turyatemba, a teacher at Friends International Christian Academy says,

“The students started asking different questions about sexuality so we reported this issue to the administration and then came up with the mentorship programme to teach sexuality education to the children based on biblical values.”
Turyatemba says today, with the changing times, “Parents do not have enough time to talk to their children and many parents shy away from talking about sexuality. Most parents don’t even know how to approach the subject.”
Nguchie points out that in some cultures it is the paternal aunt’s responsibility to sit down a child and teach them about sexuality. However, she says, today not many paternal aunts take up this responsibility. But, she is thankful for initiatives to educate the children about the same.

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Plight of the youth
Uganda has an estimated population of 42.7 million, 77 per cent are under 25 years of age. This youthful population is a potential opportunity and asset for driving, accelerating and sustaining economic growth and transformation envisaged in the national vision.
Today, the youth are prone to a number of challenges, few among them are increasing abuse of alcohol and drugs, predisposition to early and risky sexual activities, teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, high school dropout rates, early unwanted marriage and menstrual hygiene management challenges.

According to the NSEF framework, by the age of 15 years, 68 per cent of the girls and 62 per cent of the boys have already engaged in sex, 25 per cent of teenage girls are either pregnant or have already had their first child andfour per cent of young people aged 15-24 years have already been infected with HIV.
Speaking about the rise in teenage pregnancies in Uganda, Jackson Chekweko, the executive director, Reproductive Health Uganda says.
“The challenge of teenage pregnancy remains high and may not be reduced easily for as long as government has not adopted a more comprehensive approach to sexuality education.”

The NSEF framework points out that without an empowered youth, Uganda will not be able to reach the 2040 Vision that states to have “a transformed Ugandan society from a peasant to a modern and prosperous country within 30 years”.
The prime objectives of the NSEF framework is to guide the development of sexuality education curricula, textbooks, and programmes and to empower young people to be better prepared and prevent and protect themselves against infections (HIV, STDs, NCD), sexual abuse, early sexual debut, teenage/unplanned pregnancies and school dropout. Be able to immediately respond, mitigate and get desired relief when they are infected, abused, engaged in unplanned early sexual activities.
However, few academicians and experts believe there is a lack in the NSEF framework and it needs to be revised with necessary amendments.

What does the NSEF framework lack?
In an interactive online media training organised by RAHU and Reproductive Health Uganda (RHU), a number of experts and stakeholders argued about the current NSEF framework.
Charles Serwanja, public health counsellor, Inter-religious council Uganda says, “A harmonised approach and a lot of healing is required on the SE framework because we need to respect the very real diversities that exist and provide an inclusive approach, unless every stakeholders is on board, we cannot draw a conclusive implementation.”
The major debate on the sexuality education framework lies behind the development of SE curricula, and programmes based on the Uganda’s cultural values. The argument is to reduce direct adaptation of foreign materials in the curriculum, and harmonise SE information by clearly identifying its stakeholders.

Who are the right stakeholders?
We often think that the education sector is the only sole stakeholder to make decisions about implementing any kind of education policies and framework.
Uganda has about 85 per cent of people (according to 2014 census), who are Christians and go by their staunch religious and cultural values.

Setbacks “The challenge of teenage pregnancy
Setbacks “The challenge of teenage pregnancy remains high and may not be reduced easily for as long as government has not adopted a more comprehensive approach to sexuality education” Jackson Chekweko, Reproductive Health Uganda

Every religion is different and has its own thought process, Often the debate lies around the religious leaders being the major obstacle in implementation of sexuality education framework.

“Religious leaders are important when it comes to educating the youth about sexuality using the Bible,”Turyatemba says.
Whereas, Nguchie believes, religious leaders can be consulted about the framework, they need not be directly involved in the implementation.
According to the NSEF 2018 report, government funds 64 per cent of primary schools and 43 per cent of secondary schools in the country. However, most schools are founded by faith based organisations (FBOs) with 40 per cent pre-primary, 75 per cent primary, 56 per cent secondary and 44 per cent tertiary institutions are owned by these FBOs.

Henry Semakula, the senior education officer, guidance and counselling at the Ministry of Education believes there is need to identify the right stakeholders and have them on board to discuss and implement the framework in schools.
Speaking during the same online session he says, “Religious and cultural leaders are the most important stakeholders to help disseminate and implement the SE framework. we cannot ignore their concerns, as more than 70 per cent of the schools are owned by the religious leaders.”

In order, to implement SE framework as a multi-sectoral collaboration with key ministers, he says, “Integration of SE in the subject syllabi and in the policies and practices of the school by involving parents, religious and cultural is required.”
At the same time we cannot ignore the real stakeholders on board, realising the importance of parents being among the important stakeholders.
Dr Dinah Nakiganda, assistant commissioner adolescent and school health, Ministry of Health says parental engagement is key.

However, the question is when and how the implementation will be successful, as the Education Ministry is still deciding on the fate and implementation of the framework in the school curriculum.
Whereas, IRCU (Inter-religious Council Uganda) believes, sexuality education is controversial and difficult to carry out on a national scale for now, especially while trying to maintain the quality of the education it needs inclusive approval by involving other stakeholders.

Serwanja says, “IRCU leadership strongly believes that young people need to be supported in navigating the stormy waters of adolescence and be empowered to make healthy choices, there is diversity within and across religions in interpreting SE. Hence, inclusive agenda is required.”

Highlight
The prime objectives of the NSEF framework is to guide the development of sexuality education curricula, textbooks, and programmes and to empower young people to be better prepared and prevent and protect themselves against infections (HIV, STDs, NCD), sexual abuse, early sexual debut, teenage/unplanned pregnancies and school dropout. Be able to immediately respond, mitigate and get desired relief when they are infected, abused, engaged in unplanned early sexual activities.
editorial@ug.nationmedia.com

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