When it comes to comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), we know a lot about what works. We know that students respond well to participatory methodologies and that addressing gender and power in CSE content improves sexual health outcomes. But what do we know about an integral component of CSE success: teacher and adult facilitator training?
As grant-makers who work closely with partners who are directly involved in CSE programs and advocacy, we know that well-designed and implemented CSE teacher training can make or break programs. Indeed many of our partners focus their efforts on teacher training and sensitizing facilitators of CSE programs. Yet, there is less written about teacher training than about CSE as a whole. For that reason, we conducted a review that outlines the policy context, best practices, and key challenges in the field of teacher training for CSE in the Global South.
One of the biggest challenges in addressing teacher training for CSE is teachers’ and adult facilitators’ own values and belief systems; they are often assumed to be neutral delivery mechanisms of CSE. For example, research from South Africa suggests that HIV education teachers and adult facilitators perceive their role as one of teaching values and morals, and are selective about what to teach based on their own values and beliefs. This, combined with very little national-level policy guidance on how CSE courses should be taught, leaves teachers and adult facilitators to dictate their own approaches to teaching based on their values and comfort levels.
Given this, providing teachers and adult facilitators with a participatory and self-reflective space to consider their own identities and beliefs regarding gender and sexuality can inform the way they teach CSE. This has been tested in a variety of settings. For example in Zambia, UNESCO teacher training programs incorporate the Process-Oriented Approach (POA), which is a methodology that uses personal reflections about sexuality and love to openly discuss sexuality education. The approach aims to deconstruct personal prejudices, personal judgment, and values in discussing sexuality issues. The POA has been shown to yield an almost immediate impact on an individual’s outlook on sexuality and how to effectively communicate it. The curriculum includes picture games, a brainstorm on sexuality, including a contraceptive “supermarket,” including condom programming in schools, and human anatomy from the point of view of pleasure.
Our review also found that in addition to comprehensive pre-service training programs, in-service teacher training is just as important for the effective implementation of CSE. In many settings around the world, teachers and adult facilitators do not have opportunities, time or resources for refresher or follow-up training. This can exacerbate the discomfort teachers and adult facilitators feel teaching these topics long after their pre-service training has ended.
Training evaluations indicate that teachers and adult facilitators need and want ongoing guidance, support, and training on the most difficult topics, as well as on the use of facilitator techniques in order to support student participation. For instance, in a review of the CSE program called “The World Starts With Me”, teachers and adult facilitators reported being trained at the beginning of the program resulting in positive changes in the quality of instruction and comfort with the subject matter. However, over time, the teachers and adult facilitators found it difficult to apply their training to their own traditional attitudes, parental opposition, and community pressure on sexuality education topics. The review found that teachers and adult facilitators often revert into pre-training modes of teaching once they return to their non-supportive school environment.
This suggests a powerful mandate for the continued investment in teachers and adult facilitators of CSE. Finding new and creative ways to train teachers and adult facilitators of CSE will hopefully lead to more responsive, participatory programs that respond to and provide young people with the information they need to make informed decisions about sex and sexuality and lead healthy lives.