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Sex Education Contradicts Traditional and Religious Norms, According to New Study

Author: Myolisi Gophe

With the numbers of new HIV infections among the youth reported to be astronomically high, and “risky behaviours” observed in learners, the implementation of comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is critical at schools.

(Published - 8 April 2020)

But, as UWC graduate Juliet Mlungwana found, high schools are not implementing CSE as much as primary schools do because of challenges at personal, school, classroom and community levels. The CSE lessons complement the existing Life Orientation (LO) subject and provide teachers with a step by step guide, which may sometimes entail sensitive content.

“Some LO educators had their reservations due to religious and cultural reasons that contradicted with the objectives of CSE. Some male LO educators seemed to have gender discriminatory practices towards girls, despite CSE scripted lessons training received prior to teaching the lessons,” Mlungwana, who graduated with her MPhil, said.

At the school level, Mlungwana found in her research for her master’s degree in public health which she graduated with last week, there was support from school management and some colleagues, but there were challenges of shortage of time, LO content overload, LO low status and opposition to CSE from some colleagues.

According to her study, at the classroom level there were factors enhancing CSE. 

“For example, learners were eager for CSE lessons. However, educators struggled to teach using interactive methods as recommended for CSE, thus resorting to rote teaching methods. And at community level, there were traditional norms and practices contradicting CSE messaging, and indirectly promoting early sex debut amongst learners.”

Mlungwana, who was born and bred in Empangeni in the north coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal, has always had deep interest in sexuality education, having spent about 15 years as a trainer and facilitator of DramAidE (Drama in AIDS Education) at the University of Zululand, where she obtained her undergraduate studies. She also held various positions in different programmes and organisations within the space of sexuality education.

“So choosing to study MPH at UWC was a logical decision and very much in line with my career experiences and gaps I saw in that space,” she said. “I have the desire to see CSE being implemented in schools because it will improve and possibly change the life of young people in South Africa. Society stands to gain so much more from healthy and productive youth who will contribute to the country economy and societal advancement.”

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