Let’s make sex education compulsory in school curricula
Ghanaians joined teachers to commemorate World Teachers Day in October, 2013 as an occasion to appreciate the invaluable contribution of teachers to the development of the country.
No nation develops without education being mainstreamed into every facet of the development agenda. As a matter of fact, give the people proper education and poverty, diseases, conflict and marginalization would be far from them. The teacher is therefore an unrecognized hero and we need national consciousness on the plight of the teacher to draw sustainable schemes that would improve their welfare.
The Minister of Education, Prof. Jane Nana Opoku Agyemang during the celebration, underscored the need for a review of the curricula of teachers. Also the Minister of Health, Dr Kwaku Agyemang-Mensah , recently made a call for the introduction of family planning and contraceptive use in school syllabus in Ho at the 2013 Family Week Celebration, after expressing concern over the low patronage of contraceptives as family planning method resulting in increasing spate of abortion and maternal death.
These calls border on educational, gender and reproductive health rights. Unfortunately, many of such clarion calls have been made in the past but no concrete interventions have been taken.
The Executive Director of Child Rights International also condemned the high incidence of girls dropping out of school, as a result of the incidence of teenage pregnancies. Statistics available indicate that the Bongo and Builsa districts of the Upper East Region, as well as the Cape Coast Municipality, are worse off when it comes to teenage pregnancies and abortions.
Changing the curricula to meet the exigencies of the moment, to reflect gender and reproductive health issues and to address the challenges women, children and the youth face, is a necessity and this is where the wisdom of the statements by the two Ministers is premised and should be acted upon with alacrity.
However, it must be pointed out that the root cause of this reoccurring and ever-increasing phenomenon has not been addressed, because discussing sexuality in homes and schools is considered sacrilegious. This has been reinforced by the perception that holding sexuality education and discussions with children makes them sexually active. Whereas there is no scientific research and evidence to back this claim, it is still religiously and strongly adhered to.
Speaking to this writer on the subject, Mr Tia Abdul-Kabiru, the Education and Advocacy Officer of NORSAAC, said his outfit in collaboration with other Non-Governmental Organizations, including PPAG, RAINS, ISODEC and GDCA, have over the years, been organizing a lot of programmes on Sexual Reproductive Health for the youth, and observed that “We need to come to reality that abstaining from discussing and including sexuality education curricula is only causing children and the adolescent devastating harm.
Our silence has not stopped information communication technology from exposing children to sexuality more so on the negative aspect of it. Neither has it stopped children from becoming sexually active, nor has it been able to reverse the growing negative repercussion of teenage pregnancy that bedevil our country”
He cited, for instance, that about 77 school teenagers became pregnant in 2010 in the Brong-Ahafo Region; it increased to 111 in 2011, and further increased to 170 in 2013. He furtrher indicated that nationally, it is estimated that about 750,000 teenagers from 15 to 19 years become pregnant annually, stressing “the problem persists in every part of the country with reported cases in every region”.
There are enormous benefits in teaching children and adolescent sexual issues, and that is why the government should promote sex education.
First, we are confronted with teenage pregnancy causing school drop-out and abortion. This menace would be solved or better still reduced if sexuality education is introduced and teens taught the health implications of sex, teenage pregnancy, safe sex practices and sex-related diseases.
Again, HIV/AIDS is a global canker and Ghana is not spared in this. Sexuality education would help eliminate HIV/AIDS, and help achieve MDGs Four and Six.
Sexuality education would also help promote reproductive health and rights of people, and basic health management practices of adolescents enhanced. Sexuality education is therefore a catalyst to addressing several gender issues, since women are the ones facing the challenges of sexual abuses, maternal deaths, and teenage pregnancies, among others.
The Ghana Education Act, 2008 (Act 778) calls for “…the establishment of an educational system intended to produce well-balanced individuals with the requisite knowledge, skills, values, aptitudes and attitudes to become functional and productive citizens for the total development and the democratic advancement of the nation, for related matters”.
This provision is consistent with a global call to address special needs of adolescents and young people’s sexual and reproductive health through education, health and family welfare programmes.
In Ghana, young people still do not have access to Comprehensive Sexuality Education in schools necessary to guide them to consciously decide when and with whom to become sexually active; to avoid non consensual sex, sexual violence, and abuse; to plan pregnancies and have access to safe abortion; to avoid acquiring or transmitting sexually transmitted infections and HIV and AIDS; to know when they need preventive and curative services; to go through pregnancy and childbirth safely; and to bear and rear healthy children.
According to the Education and Advocacy Officer of NORSAAC, the study of the country’s educational curricula showed that some bits of SRHR education are contained in Integrated Science, Social Studies, Citizenship Education and English Language. In these four subjects, four topics or SRHR-related issues such as Reproduction in Human; Infectious Diseases of Humans; Adolescent Reproductive Health; Citizenship and Human Right; Gender Relations; Domestic Violence and Conflict in Community; and Stigma and Discrimination, are taught.
Considering all these, there is the urgent need for the Ghana Education Service to work through the Ministry of Education to integrate SRHR education into the educational curriculum, by enforcing schools to include it into their time tables, as proposed by the Education and Advocacy Officer of NORSAAC and other major stakeholders.
There is also the need for SRHR facilitation to be integrated in the training of teachers at the Teacher Training Colleges of Education.
We can no longer postpone sexuality education for children and adolescents when they are already facing the realities by their poor sexual knowledge and risky sexual behaviour. The government should consider the harm of the silence on sexuality education, re-examine the causes and pervasive effects of teenage pregnancy, abortion and maternal death, and undertake the necessary reforms in the JHS and SHS educational curricula. The time to act is now.
At the just-ended two day orientation workshop in Accra for Journalists organized by the Ghana Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Alliance of Young people in Ghana, participants equally stressed the need for the inclusion of Comprehensive Sexuality Education(CSE) into the School Curricula to help confront the reproductive health problems of young people, so as to help curb problems such as teenage pregnancies, abortion , HIV/AIDS, maternal and infant mortality which is prevalent among school girls leading to high drop-outs.
Sexuality Education in Junior and Senior High Curricula is, indeed, the key to guarantee Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, and must be implemented now.
By Samuel Adadi Akapule