By Carol Gatura and Estelle Sidze, APHRC
What happens when you get a group of teenagers together to talk about sex? You find that they know a lot more – and a lot less – than they need to in order to make the smartest and healthiest decisions for themselves.
Through discussions amongst themselves, as part of a wider group, and as part of a studio audience for Nairobi’s first ever call-in sexuality education talk show geared at young people, APHRC got some insight into how best to bring comprehensive sexuality education into schools and communities to reach the greatest number of adolescents with age-appropriate, contextual and relevant information about sexual health.
More than 100 teens aged 14-18 from across the country joined APHRC on April 12 at the Kenya National Theatre in Nairobi for a community dissemination of findings from research conducted in 2015. Young people and teachers from 78 secondary schools across three counties participated in the survey where they reported how well – and how much – they were learning or teaching about sexuality.
“We have a responsibility to the young people of Kenya to provide them with the best possible information about sexuality and sexual behavior so they can make smart, empowered choices,” said Dr. Estelle Sidze, who was the lead author on the study conducted in collaboration with the Guttmacher Institute. “It is valuable to hear the young people validate the findings. Their input makes it clear that they need and want more information to support healthy decision-making.”
According to teachers, 75% of schools cover all topics that constitute a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum. However, only 2% of students reported learning about all of these topics; the greatest emphasis is on reproductive physiology and HIV/STI prevention, the findings show.
The study found that fewer than half of teachers (46%) had received any in-service training on sexuality education, and only 31% had received such training in the past three years. This may explain, at least in part, the disparity between what teachers and students report. The main barriers to teaching sexuality education reported by teachers were lack of teaching materials, time or training, and embarrassment about certain topics. In particular, teachers would like more support on effective methods of teaching violence prevention and contraceptive use.
At a time when the Kenyan curriculum is under review by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, the study provides evidence and an opportunity for policymakers and decision-makers to explore how best to improve the comprehensiveness of existing curricula, in order to better equip adolescents with the information and skills they need to achieve healthy sexual and reproductive lives, prevent sexual violence and avoid negative health outcomes.
Curricula should be improved and the content enriched to support new and improved ways of teaching these topics to students; all of these are reflected in international CSE guidelines that emphasize promotion of practical skills, confidence and agency and rely less on fear-based and moralistic messages. In a country where teenaged pregnancy remains very high and tends to result in girls dropping out of school, a renewed focus on pregnancy prevention strategies that cover a broad range of contraceptives and negotiating skills within relationships — such as if or when to engage in sexual activity — is critically needed.
This message was shared in a number of forums where advocates for youth and public health both in and out of government were convened by APHRC. Across the three counties where the survey took place, APHRC with local partners convened high-level discussions to grapple with how to best serve the needs of Kenya’s young people. The response was near-universal: CSE is an effective way to ensure young people take precautions to reduce unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, and refrain from engaging in sexual behavior until they are ready.
“CSE is a sensitive issue that requires the collaboration of all sectors. We should all be keen to work towards full implementation of Kenya’s policies,” said Nicodemus Mbaliku, sub-county director at the Teachers Service Commission for Mombasa county.
APHRC will continue to foster these partnerships and hold policymakers accountable in implementation of CSE programs. We have identified champions who will advance the conversations with schools, community health care providers and parents, as well as provide evidence to county governments.
Our engagement with the youth was not only of value to us, but to them as well.
“This event was amazing! I got to speak out on issues that I can’t even talk about in school or with my parents. Plus I’ve learned so much on contraceptive use and my rights as a young person,” said Tabitha, a student from Viwandani.
“Such forums are really encouraging to the youth because we hardly get such information in school or at home,” said James, a student from Kibera. “I will definitely share what I’ve learned here with my friends.”
We asked the youth what this information meant to them. Their response: Kuchop ni Power: Education is Power!
A short video was produced to highlight the discussions at the Youth Summit