When it comes to putting sexuality education into action, partnerships between schools and civil society organizations can be key. Schools and educators have an important role to play in students’ academic developments, but also in their physical and emotional wellbeing. Where schools fall short, local organizations can help by engaging communities and securing commitments from teachers and parents.
This is especially important when governments are reluctant or refuse to take on a “controversial” topic like sexuality education. Organizations play a critical role in holding these governments accountable and in providing services where there are gaps. Local organizations that work in schools may teach life-skills programs, assist students with accessing services, or provide sexuality education training for teachers. Several of our partners, including Instituto de Educación y Salud in Peru and TICAH in Kenya, carry out this critical work every day.
In South Africa, a recent study explored how local organizations are working with and in schools on sexuality and HIV/AIDS education, using the “Life Orientation” curriculum. To see what works and what doesn’t with these partnerships, researchers spoke with students ages 14-18, their teachers and administrators, and organization staff members working as facilitators in schools. There’s little attention paid to evaluating how the curricula are implemented, so this study contributes to filling that gap.
The study focused on alternative strategies and looked specifically at how students, educators, and outside facilitators relate to each other.
A grade 11 student sheds light on how being exposed to new facilitators motivated them to be more attentive: “We feel as if our teachers care about us by bringing in these people, knowing since they themselves can’t teach everything, they know these people know better.”
Hearing from guest speakers like medical professionals or survivors of illness or abuse, or having outings to visit hospitals, also increased students’ enthusiasm. Similarly, facilitators from local organizations use participatory lessons that involve visuals, drama, debate, and role play to convey their messages. For example, one lesson used a soccer analogy to illustrate how HIV is transmitted, with planning, goal-setting, and navigating challenges.
“It needs to be participatory and a lot of teachers don’t have those skills, or they just never learned them… whereas what we’re talking about really has to be engaging and it has to be fun,” said one senior coordinator from a local group.
These facilitators also have more flexibility when it comes to approaches for teaching and delivering services, such as HIV testing. They may have more training and experience in addressing sensitive matters like sexuality.
But there are areas where school educators may be stronger. Some educators expressed concerns with outside facilitators’ ability to manage classrooms, maintain professionalism, or use appropriate teaching methods, especially if they are not using a formal curriculum.
The researchers looked at both outside facilitators and teachers to see how they influence sexuality education. On the one hand, students enjoyed the youthfulness and anonymity of the facilitators, as they felt less judgment and concern over privacy. On the other hand, some students preferred the trust built over time with their teacher. This can be difficult for outside facilitators to foster.
There are many benefits from the educators and outside facilitators working together, but they have to clarify and balance their different roles. Local organizations described their role as supportive and supplementary to that of the educators. It was clear from this study that they have a lot to offer in terms of providing sexuality education training to teachers. Right now, they are only providing this training in schools that have a large amount of resources.
We now have the largest generation of 10- to 24- year-olds in human history, and a growing number of adolescents are attending and staying in schools around the world. So we know these institutions hold great promise as a platform for change. We have to ensure we are effectively reaching youth and scaling up comprehensive sexuality education programs. Evidence suggests those programs that involve multiple sectors and partners are the most effective. By learning from and evaluating these partnerships, we can ensure these collaborations are more meaningful, more inclusive, and leave no one behind.