School administrators’ role includes finding the right educator to deliver comprehensive sexuality education, classroom observation, and responding to concerns about providing CSE in the classroom.
Finding the Right Educator
Marshall (2018) states that the first step to effectively deliver comprehensive sexuality education in the classroom is finding the right instructor. Marshall (2018) believes that utilizing a co-teaching model with a male and female is ideal. Additional qualities to look for when hiring or designating an educator to teach CSE include maturity, comfortability in talking about sexual health and relationships. Equally important is finding an educator that is supportive of the CSE goals of the course. On par with other educators, classroom management skills are needed as well. Marshall (2018) recommends the balance of being able to allow for open discussions and encourage student participation, but knowing when to be directive as well.
A large part of an administrators role is classroom observation. UNFPA (2018) created a tool for administrators to help assess the delivery of CSE in the classroom; this tool can be used by an administrator or an educator as a self-assessment and includes criteria for excellence in sexuality education. As with standard observations, having a pre and post discussion with educators about the observation is crucial to help create a culture of continual improvement.
Responding to Concerns About Providing CSE in the Classroom
Administrators are the first ones to field calls from parents and guardians over the concern for comprehensive sexuality education to be taught in the classroom. UNESCO (2018) put together a list of responses to help guide administrators when these concerns are raised.
Concern: CSE leads to early sexual initiation
Research from around the world clearly indicates that sexuality education rarely, if ever, leads to early sexual initiation. Research has shown that CSE has either no direct impact on the age of sexual initiation, or that it actually leads to later and more responsible sexual behavior.
Concern: CSE deprives children of their ‘innocence’
Evidence illustrates that children and young people benefit from receiving appropriate information that is scientifically accurate, non-judgmental and age- and developmentally-appropriate, in a carefully planned process from the beginning of formal schooling. In the absence of CSE, children and young people can be vulnerable to conflicting and sometimes even damaging messages from their peers, the media or other sources. Good quality sexuality education provides complete and correct information with an emphasis on positive values and relationships. Sexuality education is about more than sex – it includes information about the body, puberty, relationships, life skills, etc.
Concern: CSE goes against our culture or religion
The Guidance stresses the need to engage and build support among the custodians of culture in a given community, in order to adapt the content to the local cultural context. Key stakeholders, including religious leaders, can assist programme developers and providers to engage with the key values central to the relevant religions and cultures, as people’s religious beliefs will inform what they do with the knowledge they possess. The Guidance also highlights the need to reflect on and address negative social norms and harmful practices that are not in line with human rights or that increase vulnerability and risk, especially for girls and young women or other marginalized populations.
Concern: It is the role of parents and the extended family to educate our young people about sexuality
As the primary source of information, support and care in shaping a healthy approach to sexuality and relationships, parents and family play a fundamental role. However, through education ministries, schools and teachers, the government should support and complement the role that parents and family play by providing holistic education for all children and young people in a safe and supportive learning environment, as well as the tools and materials necessary to deliver high-quality CSE programming.
Concern: Parents will object to sexuality education being taught in schools
Parents play a primary role in shaping key aspects of their children’s sexual identity and their sexual and social relationships. Parents’ objections to CSE programmes in school are often based on fear and lack of information about CSE and its impact, as they want to be sure that messages about sexuality and SRH are rooted in the family’s values system. CSE programmes are not meant to take over the role of parents, but rather are meant to work in partnership with parents, and involve and support them. Most parents are among the strongest supporters of quality sexuality education programmes in schools. Many parents value external support to help them approach and discuss ‘sex issues’ with their children, ways to react to difficult situations (e.g. when a childwatches porn on the Internet or is bullied on social media) and how to access and provide accurate information.
Concern: CSE may be good for adolescents, but it is inappropriate for young children
Young children also need information that is appropriate for their age. The Guidance is based on the principle of age- and developmental-appropriateness, reflected in the grouping of learning objectives. Additionally, the Guidance provides flexibility to take into account the local and community contexts and encompasses a range of relationships, not only sexual relationships. Children recognize and are aware of these relationships long before they act on their sexuality and therefore need the skills and knowledge to understand their bodies, relationships and feelings from an early age. The Guidance lays the foundations for healthy childhood by providing children with a safe environment to learn the correct names for parts of the body; understand principles and facts of human reproduction; explore family and interpersonal relationships; learn about safety, prevention and reporting of sexual abuse etc. CSE also provides children with the opportunity to develop confidence by learning about their emotions, self-management (e.g. of hygiene, emotions, behaviour), social awareness (e.g. empathy), relationship skills (e.g. positive relationships, dealing with conflicts) and responsible decision-making (e.g. constructive and ethical choices). These topics are introduced gradually, in line with the age and evolving capacities of the child.
Concern: Teachers may be uncomfortable or lacking the skills to teach CSE
Well-trained, supported and motivated teachers play a key role in the delivery of high-quality CSE. Teachers are often faced with questions about growing up, relationships or sex from learners in a school setting, and it is important that they have a suitable and safe way of responding to these questions. Clear sectoral and school policies and curricula help support teachers, as does institutionalized pre- and in-service teacher training and support from school management. Teachers should be encouraged to develop their skills and confidence through added emphasis on formalizing CSE in the curriculum, as well as stronger professional development and support.
Concern: Teaching CSE is too difficult for teachers
Teaching and talking about sexuality can be challenging in social and cultural contexts where there are negative and contradictory messages about sex, gender and sexuality. At the same time, most teachers and educators have the skills to build rapport with learners, to actively listen and help identify needs and concerns and to provide information. Teachers can be trained in CSE content through participatory methodologies and are not expected to be experts on sexuality. This training can be included as part of the curriculum of teacher training institutes (pre-service) or as in-service teacher training.
Concern: CSE is already covered in other subjects (biology, life-skills or civics education)
Using the Guidance provides an opportunity to evaluate and strengthen the curriculum, teaching practice and the evidence, based on the dynamic and rapidly changing field of CSE, and to ensure that schools fully cover a comprehensive set of topics and learning objectives, even if the learning is distributed across a range of school subjects. In addition, effective CSE includes a number of attitudinal and skills-based learning outcomes which may not necessarily be included in other subjects.
Sexuality education should promote positive values and responsibility The Guidance supports a rights-based approach that emphasizes values such as respect, acceptance, equality, empathy, responsibility and reciprocity as inextricably linked to universal human rights. It is essential to include a focus on values and responsibility within a comprehensive approach to sexuality education. CSE fosters opportunities for learners to assess and clarify their own values and attitudes regarding a range of topics.
Concern: Young people already know everything about sex and sexuality through the Internet and social media
The Internet and social media can be excellent ways for young people to access information and answers to their questions about sexuality. Young people often use online media (including social media) because they are unable to quickly and conveniently access information elsewhere. However, online media doesn’t necessarily provide age-appropriate, evidence-based facts and can in fact provide biased and distorted messages. It is difficult for young people to distinguish between accurate and inaccurate information. While online media can offer a lot of information, it does not offer the space for young people to discuss, reflect and debate the issues, nor to develop the relevant skills. CSE offers a forum for young people to understand and make sense of the images, practices, norms and sexual scripts that they observe via social media and pornography. It provides an opportunity to learn about the aspects of sexuality that are absent from pornography, such as emotional intimacy, negotiating consent and discussing modern contraception. CSE can also support young people to safely navigate the Internet and social media and can help them identify correct and fact-based information.
Concerns: Religious leaders may not support sexuality education
Religious leaders play a unique role in supporting CSE in schools. Faith-based organizations can provide guidance to programme developers and providers on how to approach religious leaders to begin a discussion about sexual health and sexuality education. Acting as models, mentors and advocates, religious leaders are ambassadors for faith communities that value young people’s well-being. Young people seek moral guidance that is relevant to their lives, and all young people deserve reliable information and caring guidance about sexuality that enables them to engage in both emotionally and physically healthy relationships. Sexuality education that is factually inaccurate and withholds information ignores the realities of adolescent life, and puts young people at unnecessary risk of disease and unintended pregnancy and, above all, endangers their lives and human dignity. Many faith communities know from experience, and numerous studies show, that young people tend to delay mature sexual activity when they receive sexuality education that focuses on responsible decision-making and mutual respect in relationships (UNESCO, 2009).
Concern: CSE is a means of recruiting young people towards alternative lifestyles
The main principle of the Guidance is that everyone has the right to accurate information and services in order to achieve the highest standard of health and well-being, without making judgement on sexual behaviour, sexual orientation, gender identity or health status. The Guidance takes a rights-based approach that is also focused on gender, and acknowledges that people express themselves differently in all societies, sometimes not conforming to gender or social norms, including on the issue of sexual behaviour and sexual orientation or gender identity. It does not endorse or campaign for any particular lifestyle other than promoting health and well-being for all.
[Source: UNESCO. 2018. International technical guidance on sexuality education: An evidence-informed approach.]
Resources for Administrators
Comprehensive Sexuality Education Observation and Monitoring Tool
Engaging School Leaders