By MIRIAM ZIMBA –
It is a subject that is challenging established traditional African norms- ‘Should pupils be taught sex education?’
In a cultural clash that has pitted modernity with traditional African tenets, sex education never fails to raise a heated debate as to its relevance.
“IT is not right for children to learn about issues of sex in schools. This can easily corrupt their morals and promote promiscuity,” Hildah Bwalya, a mother of two explains.
Despite these fears, she wondered why schools have incorporated sexual education as early as primary school level.
‘ Our children are now being given homework questions that we as parents are not comfortable to answer,” she adds.
Mrs Bwalya says she believes that sexual education should only be taught to pupils in secondary school.
“At least in secondary school children are old enough to decide whether or not to engage in sex and they are old enough to know what sort of questions to ask their parents.
The younger ones in primary schools just ask us anything, including questions we are not able to answer freely,” she explains.
She is of the opinion that the high levels of moral decay among the adolescents of present day is attributed to the exposure to free information about sex through internet, social media and interactions with peers in schools.
“In our days, information on sexuality was taboo and only taught to us during initiation ceremonies in song, dance, riddles and proverbs-the information was not direct as it is being done in schools today,” she lamented.
Christopher Kombe who is also a fellow parent with two daughters share a different view on comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) being taught in schools.
He feels that because of the massive exposure to social media platforms, it is imperative that sexual education is taught in schools as a way of complementing the efforts of parents and guardians in raising up children.
“Personally, I do not have any objections. I feel it is a good thing that should have started a long time ago.”
“It is an undisputed fact that our children have become more knowledgeable and inquisitive nowadays compared to a few years back.”
Mr Kombe says the introduction of CSE in schools will serve as a window of opportunity for teachers to engage pupils at an early age on matters of sexuality.
Teleziya Sakala of Lusaka’s Mandevu Township dropped out of school after falling pregnant at the age of 16 years, whilst in grade nine.
This was of course prior to the introduction of SE in schools by the Ministry of Education in 2013.
At the time, the only knowledge of sexuality she had was so scanty that she did not imagine that her engagement in sexual activities would lead to pregnancy.
The only knowledge she had was what she had learnt from peers and what her traditional counsellors had taught her during initiation at the time she attained puberty.
Like many young girls her age, issues relating to safer sexual practices and contraception never even crossed Teleziya’s mind.
“He tricked me into believing that he would not impregnate me he told me that those who fall pregnant engage in sexual activities on a daily basis,” she explains.
“When I fell pregnant, I felt as though my life was shattered, I knew that I had lost the only opportunity I had to lead a better life than my peers in the community I live in,” she explains.
Teleziya is just among the thousands of girls who drop out of school annually, as a result of pregnancies.
Latest statistics indicate that about 14,000 girls dropped out of school in 2014 alone.
In 2013, about 12,500 girls dropped out of schools due to pregnancies, against 4,492 who were re-admitted into school after delivery.
According to statistics obtained from the Ministry of Education, Northwestern Province accounted for the highest number of dropout rates for school girls at about 1,620 in 2013 alone, with the least numbers from Northern Province which recorded 824.
However, it is not only pregnancies that adolescents have to worry about.
There are many other worries that come as a result of engaging in risky sexual practices, and among them are risks of contracting sexually transmitted infection (STI’s), HIV, abortions and other maternal and reproductive health complications.
Like many other girls, Teleziya is not even aware of the risks associated with sexual behaviour.
This can be attributed to the fact that the information which most young people her age have on sexuality, is what they hear from others, and sometimes what they pick up in the media and internet.
In 2013, UNESCO commissioned Education Development Centre(EDC) to implement a national study in Zambia of schools and teacher training institutions.
This study was aimed at collecting data on the knowledge, behaviour and attitudes of young people between the ages of 10 and 24 with regard to sexual and reproductive health.
The study also sought to establish the availability and quality of CSE in schools; and safety, discrimination and harassment both in- and out of school.
This study as envisaged is to serve as a baseline for a national project, “Strengthening CSE Programmes for Young People in School Settings in Zambia.
In total, 1,815 students from 115 schools and nine teacher training institutions and 390 teachers took part in the baseline assessment.
The study found that 25per cent of Zambian school students in grades 4 through 12, answered 95per cent or more of essential HIV/AIDS fact questions correctly.
Only 36 per cent of schools in the study reported that they have systems to refer students for clinical sexual reproductive health (SRH) services, and only about two-thirds of 14 to 17 year old students knew where to find SRH information and or receive SRH services.
The findings of this study are significant for educators and health providers in Zambia because they help to inform efforts to promote SRH among young people and reduce unwanted pregnancies as well as STI’s including HIV.
The study provides vital information on SRH behaviours, experiences and attitudes of young people, as well as, school response including their provision of comprehensive sexuality education in schools.
Findings of the study also cater for the provision of health and SRH referrals, and ensuring that the school environment is safe from violence, harassment and discrimination.
The introduction of CSE in schools is against the backdrop that Zambia has been experiencing challenges in the area of passing accurate information to the youths regarding sexuality education.
In the early 1990’s, efforts were made by partnering with UNESCO and UNFPA to include Reproductive Health in the school curriculum.
The national policy on education ‘Educating Our Future’ states that ‘While striving for the comprehensive development of learner knowledge, understanding and skills, the curriculum should not be unduly fragmented or overloaded.’
Thus, several areas and issues, instead of being offered as independent subjects, will be integrated across the curriculum; others will be structured as modules that can be offered within the framework of an appropriate discipline.
Young people have remained in a dilemma of life and sex and early pregnancies, abortion and STI’s still rocked their lives.
The Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) was mandated to integrate Reproductive Health in the school curriculum.
Despite all these efforts, there are still a lot of loopholes, which require urgent attention.
According to Professional Teachers Union of Zambia (PROTUZ), a lot of parents have misconstrued CSE and have not taken time to understand the essence of its existence.
PROTUZ director of public relations Chisanga Mumba said although there are a few parents who believe that the introduction of CSE in schools is driving moral decay among learners, the majority of them have accepted the move as welcome.
Mr Mumba explains that the biggest challenge at the moment is the lack of material for administering this subject in schools, and the lack of sensitisation by the CDC, thereby creating an information gap.
“Teachers are finding it hard to teach the subject, and most of them have resorted to improvising, because what they have is just the framework and not the actual teaching material,” he said.
He attributes the negativity to the subject by some parents to inaccurate information which they get from their children as regards CSE.
“The majority of parents, especially those with children enrolled in government schools, very few of them are actively involved in the learning process of their children.”
The attitude that they have is that as long as a child goes to school, they have played their part and the rest is for the teacher to sort out,” he explains.
It is clear that the intentions by government to introduce CSE are aimed at benefiting the learners.
It now remains incumbent upon the Ministry of Education to scale-up its awareness campaigns to ensure that the public embraces CSE as a vital component of the education curriculum.