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Impact of sex education in schools: Under CSE, pupils are encouraged to abstain from sex


FAITH Nankamba, a Grade 10 pupil at Mkushi Boarding Secondary School, had never had proper guidance on sexual and reproductive health matters with an adult until her teacher brought the matter to the classroom

Since she joined the school in January this year, she has been learning Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) as part of the school curriculum.

Mkushi Boarding Secondary School started offering CSE in 2020 after the District Education Board Secretary (DEBS), took some teachers through training.

“I learn about a number of things including puberty, HIV prevention and gender equality. I am now very confident about myself as a girl because I know how to maintain hygiene and relate with boys with ease,” Faith said in an interview.

The introduction of CSE in schools has paved way for extra-curricular activities in school that help to equip leaders with knowledge on sexual and reproductive health (SRH).

It is against that backdrop that the Adolescent Health Club was established at Mkushi Boarding Secondary School.

Faith is a member of the club whose aim is to sensitise adolescents about their sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR).

Under the club, the pupils are sensitised about teen pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections (STI) and HIV and AIDS in bid to help them make informed decisions regarding sexuality matters.

The information also helps the pupils to stay in school until they complete their education.

“We have clubs day on Thursdays in which a number of activities are held including singing, performing sketches, and poems on various topics to sensitise other pupils on early pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections,” Faith said in an interview.

She says learning about sex in the classroom has helped school girls to know how to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

According to Faith, under CSE, pupils are encouraged to abstain from sex and focus on their education.

However, because some pupils are already sexually active, they are told to practice safe sex.

Faith has found CSE in school very helpful because it has helped her to distinguish between good and misleading information on sex.

She says abstinence is the best option for her as a school girl because she wants to focus on her education.

“I want to tell my friends and other pupils to stay away from sex and only do it when they get married or when they are old enough to protect themselves from HIV and STIs,” Faith said in an interview.

Apart from Faith, Kondwani Tembo is another pupil at Mkushi Boarding Secondary School who has found CSE helpful.

Kondwani, a Grade 11 pupil says his teachers openly talk about sexual matters, reproductive health, boy-girl relationships and human rights.

This helps him to make informed decisions.

He says many times young people fail to make the right decisions about sexual matters due to peer pressure.

“At times as young people, we engage in sexual activities and drug abuse because of peer pressure. But here at school, we learn how to protect ourselves from sexually transmitted infections and HIV, we are also equipped with information on various other issues that we may face in life,” Kondwani says.

Other things Kondwani has learnt under CSE is to how to prevent HIV and STIs.

A member of the Adolescents Health Club, Kondwani calls for the introduction of such clubs in all schools so that young people can be equipped with information that will help them to live health and productive lives.

Mkushi Boarding Secondary School guidance teacher Veronica Pilingu says CSE is helping to provide a holistic approach to education.

“Since CSE is embedded in different subjects, to make the programme work well, we have come up with a club called Adolescent Health Club where learners are engaged in different activities. Pupils after learning also teach others through plays, drama and poems during school assemblies,” Ms Pilingu says.

She says some of the common challenges the school faces are unintended pregnancies among learners and coupling, which increases chances of girls getting pregnant.

As a guidance teachers, she discourages learners from coupling by sensitising them on the repercussions of making early sex debuts.

“CSE has really proved to be helpful at this school because of what we are now experiencing. Before the introduction of the programme, we used to record six to seven cases of pregnancies (annually) at the school. It has now reduced to one to two cases,” she said.

Ms Pilingu further shares that CSE is broad and has helped to reduce cases of bullying at the school.

Mkushi Boarding Secondary School acting head teacher Bridget Chisupuka explained that CSE was launched at the school two years ago after several meetings with stakeholders.

The school has a school population of 1,271 learners from grade eight to 12. It is a combined-education school.

Prior to the implementation of the CSE at the school, the discussion of SRH matters in class received mixed reactions from stakeholders, especially parents. It was featured that CSE was designed to encourage young people to make early sex debuts.

To allay the fears of parents, school authorities had to meet members of the community around Mkushi Boarding Secondary School to explain the concept of CSE.

“The community was engaged through the District Education Board Secretary office (by) the teachers especially those that teach certain topics related to CSE and we had meetings in the assembly hall,” Ms Pilingu said.

During the meeting, it was clarified that CSE was not about teaching learners how to engage in sexual activities, but rather to give them age-appropriate  sexual and reproductive health education that could help them make informed decisions.

Parents were further told that young people are vulnerable to unguided sex education on television, the internet and from their peers which compels them to make unwise decisions about their lives.

And because the sex subject is a taboo subject between adolescents and their parents in many homes, the school curriculum has come on board to provide to close this knowledge gap.

Ms Chisupuka explained that CSE is taught by respective teachers in different subjects

Since the introduction of CSE in 2022, the Mkushi Boarding Secondary School has witnessed a reduction in pregnant cases among school girls.

The girls have learnt to resist peer pressure and also how to handle unwanted sexual advances from the opposite sex.

Those who are already sexually active are well guided on safe sex, prevention of unwanted pregnancies, STIs and HIV.

“There is improved behaviour among the learners because they now know that if they engage in (unprotected) sexual activities, the can contract STI, HIV and unwanted pregnancy,” she said.

However, Ms Chisupuka says some community members are still skeptical about CSE. She says her school wants to have another sensitization meeting on CSE with the local community.

Mkushi District Guidance and Counseling Coordinator Dorcas Chisulo Kapimpa says CSE is being taught through a number of subjects such as biology and religious education.

Ms Kapimpa says CSE is a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical, and social aspects of sexuality.

It aims to equip children and young people with knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values that will empower them to realise their health, wellbeing, and dignity.

Ms Kapimpa further says CSE helps learners to develop respectful social and sexual relationships. By laying all the information on the table, CSE helps learners to consider how their choices could affect their well-being and that of others, bearing in mind bodily autonomy and integrity.

|As teachers teach their subjects, they incorporate CSE in appropriate topics. Secondly, some schools have formed clubs where topics of CSE are being taught,” Ms Kapimpa said.

Prior to rolling out CSE in Mkushi, some teachers underwent a trainer’s training prorgramme at Malcolm Moffat College of Education in Serenje district.

After the training of teachers, stakeholders such as parents, chiefs and church leaders were for a meeting where they were availed with the framework for CSE.

This somehow helped to calm the storm against the so-called sex education in schools.

“After this interaction, many stakeholders understood that the programme is actually meant to help the learners. We have been implementing CSE (in the whole Mkushi district) for five years now,” Ms Kapimpa said.

The DEBS has been rolling out CSE in Mkushi in collaboration with a non-governmental organisation (NGO) called Restless Development.

Further, the DEBS works closely with guidance teachers in schools to monitor the performance of the CSE programme in schools.

Positive outcomes have already been noted.

“We have seen that in some schools, teen pregnancies and early marriage have reduced, Ms Kapimpa said.

(Story courtesy of AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa – ARASA)