Lively discussions at Kabulonga Primary School in Lusaka during a sexual education class. Sida supports UNESCO's work to promote sexual education in school curriculums and develop education materials.
Photo: Simon Binder
Sexual education gives young people vital knowledge
Sida supports the implementation of comprehensive sexuality education in schools in Eastern and Southern Africa. Sida’s Director General sat in on a sexual education class in Lusaka, Zambia.
It is not always an easy task to teach sexuality in a society where the subject is taboo. However, in Kabulonga Primary School in Lusaka, the discussion is lively and no one seems shy. The classroom is filled with at least 30 young students. They are all dressed in brown and yellow school uniforms, girls in skirts and boys in long trousers.
When the teacher, Brian Mwita, asks if the children can talk to their parents about sexuality the students laugh and shake their heads. The reply comes as no surprise to Brian Mwita since he has taught this subject for a long time. He is also co-writer of the education material being used. Maybe it is because of his no-nonsense attitude that the students act as if this subject is no different than any other.
“Should we start with the role-play?” asks Brian Mwita, and two boys and a girl quickly do a brief role-play around a boy who gets an erection during his sleep.
Listening to the lesson is also Sida’s Director General, Charlotte Petri Gornitzka. She is visiting Zambia to meet with partners, companies, and other donors and to visit some of the programmes handled by the Swedish Embassy in Lusaka. She has just returned from the Copperbelt where she visited public private partnerships and launched a vocational training system in the mining sector.
Now she is sitting in the classroom listening to the lesson on sexuality and the students’ straightforward discussion. When the students are divided into four groups, Charlotte Petri Gornitzka joins one of them. The group gets a question from the teacher about a boy’s physical development during puberty and soon the discussion is on.
Sexuality education has not always been a natural part of the school curriculum in countries in Africa. In 2013, however, 20 countries in East and Southern Africa affirmed a commitment to implement sexuality education in schools in the region. The Swedish/Norwegian regional HIV/AIDS team supports UNESCO in their work to implement comprehensive sexuality education in schools, by changing the school curriculum and developing comprehensive sexuality education material.
One of the crucial parts in teaching sexuality education is to integrate it in other subjects, like social science and biology. A lot of effort is also put into supporting the teachers for them to be comfortable discussing sexuality with the students.
“I am very impressed that the students managed to discuss puberty and sexuality without being shy. That is probably a result of the fact that the school has managed to make this a subject among others”, says Charlotte Petri Gornitzka when she meets with the teachers after the lesson.
Many teenage pregnancies in Zambia
One reason why sexuality education is so important is the high number of teenage pregnancies in Zambia. Young women and girls have a low position in society and are very vulnerable to sexual abuse and violence in general. It is not uncommon that older men offer them money in exchange for sex. A teenager with a baby rarely goes back to school, but the Zambian government has now decided that every pregnant girl has the right to go back to their school.
“It is important to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies since this often prevents the girl from fulfilling her education. This is why Sweden will continue to support UNESCO’s efforts to strengthen the sexuality education in the region”, explains Charlotte Petri Gornitzka.
A smaller group of students stay behind to continue the discussion after the formal visit has ended. Several of the students declare that they can find information about sex on the internet and in films, but quickly add that this information is not always accurate.
The students confirm that it is difficult to discuss sexuality with their parents, but when Charlie Njoolo says that he can talk to his grandmother, other students hum in agreement. Grandparents might be easier to talk to than parents.
When discussing the high level of teenage pregnancies, the students give an example of a 15-year old girl who got two kids before she turned 18.
“It is not that easy for the girl to get back because of stigmatization – other students will talk behind her back”, says Elisabeth Nyundu.
Avoiding early pregnancies and instead finishing school is an important step in the right direction. And a continued focus on sexuality education is one important key to giving young people the knowledge that they need.