What you need to know:
- Other specific sexual reproductive health topics are taught in other subjects such as biology and Christian Religious Education.
- Of these three subjects, life skills are viewed as the most comprehensive but less preferred by teachers because it is not an examinable subject.
- On the other hand, sexual reproductive health topics integrated into Christian religious education and biology are not taught to impart practical skills to students.
Young people in Kenya face many challenges in their transition from childhood to adulthood.
They are surrounded by many uncertainties around the changes in their bodies, how to build relationships, and their futures.
With these uncertainties and lack of proper guidance and education, they are predisposed to engage in risky sexual behaviour, resulting in teenage pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and increased risk of infection with HIV/AIDs and other sexually transmitted infections.
Young people must get the much-needed support to navigate adolescence and be empowered enough to make healthy choices.
This can only be done by the full implementation of age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education in schools.
A case study of how effective age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education can be would be the Netherlands. The Dutch sexuality education begins at the age of four.
Children are taught about appropriate touch, relationships and intimacy. Their curriculum embraces empowerment, love and respect as opposed to stigma, fear and shame. The Netherlands boasts of the lowest rates of teen pregnancy, HIV, and other STIs in the world.
These are best practices that the Ministry of Education should borrow and contextualise.
In 2012, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) published a review of school curricula on sexuality education for 10 countries in East and Southern Africa.
The study identified massive deficiencies in Kenya’s curricula. Kenya then committed to providing age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education to all Kenyan children by signing up for the East and Southern Africa (ESA) commitment in 2013.
However, the translation of the commitment into a local concrete action has been very slow, derailing the full implementation of age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education.
Support from national policies and guidelines
To begin with, the provision of sexuality education to adolescents in Kenya draws support from several national policies and guidelines.
These policies, however, focus on life skills and HIV and therefore lack comprehensiveness. Life skills education promotes general skills for daily living, such as decision-making skills, respect for other people’s rights, self-esteem, improving interpersonal relationships and coping with emotions.
Other specific sexual reproductive health topics are taught in other subjects such as biology and Christian Religious Education.
Of these three subjects, life skills are viewed as the most comprehensive but less preferred by teachers because it is not an examinable subject.
On the other hand, sexual reproductive health topics integrated into Christian religious education and biology are not taught to impart practical skills to students.
Secondly, sexuality education curriculum development is a lengthy process that involves input from various entities and actors.
These include government ministries, local and international NGOs, religious groups, and local communities. The mandate of curriculum development is bestowed to the ministry of education through the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development.
Several Kenyan non-governmental organizations have developed resourceful materials on sexuality education. The materials, however, cannot be used by teachers in schools without prior review and approval by the Ministry of Education.
Actors involved in the development process include government departments and ministries, United Nations bodies, civil society organisations, teachers, and other professional groups.
The views and experiences of adolescents, who are the intended beneficiaries of this curriculum, are largely left out. With the different actors and entities, and the exclusion of adolescents, there has been a clash of different opinions and agendas between the key stakeholders.
The clashes have resulted in the lack of collaboration among the interested parties, which has slowed down the progress towards scaling up sexuality education in the country.
Kenya should recommit to the Eastern Southern commitment(ESA), and the Ministry of Education should seek to make sexuality education a stand-alone subject in the national curriculum.
Moreover, the ministry should also take the leadership role and put intentional effort to foster collaboration among interested parties, adolescents included, in developing the sexuality education policies and curricula.
As a country made up of a majorly young population, we cannot overemphasise the need for age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education.
We need to encourage everyone, whether in school, or government, church, or mosque, to speak out on the positive outcomes of age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education so that we hasten the process of its implementation.