Our take on UNESCO’s 2018 International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education
The United Nation’s release of the 2018 International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education has corroborated much of what we at Projet Jeune Leader have learned about providing comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) since our start in 2013. That is, taking a gender-responsive approach is integral, using a human rights framework is fundamental, and incorporating the interests, needs, and voices of young people themselves is invaluable.
As a youth-led organization implementing a school-based CSE program in Madagascar, we dug a little deeper into what the guidance says, using it to reflect on our work and how we fit into the greater CSE community.
Here are our three big take-aways from the 2018 International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education.
1. The role of young people in achieving quality CSE is readily-acknowledged in the guidance, yet it remains to be seen how seriously that role is taken.
In the guidance, young people are not listed as key stakeholders in demonstrating leadership and commitment to CSE. Instead, they are regarded as potential champions for promoting the effectiveness of CSE. This important distinction mirrors the top-down approach of sexuality education that is still too often applied.
Moreover, in the entire chapter on delivering effective CSE programmes, the key factor of “involving young people” is mentioned just once, and beyond that, “young people” involvement is coupled with involvement of “parents/family members and other community members” (p. 90) as if their roles and engagement are equally important.
At odds with the lacking recognition for young people’s influence is a noteworthy insight tucked away in the section about building support for CSE programmes. It reads:
“Evidence from operational research on programme interventions shows that employing young people’s ideas, connections, and unique expertise in programmatic work increases the reach, attractiveness, relevance, and effectiveness of interventions.”
- Box 3. Youth participation in CSE advocacy and implementation, p. 86.
We believe that it is the responsibility of the authors of the technical guidance to share this understanding more widely and with greater force. The involvement of young people should no longer be at the bottom - the last thought - of a hierarchical, institutionalized approach to sexuality education. If we want to realize interventions with significant reach, attractiveness, relevance, and effectiveness, then young people must be key stakeholders in demonstrating leadership and commitment to CSE.
2. It’s obvious that the actual delivery of CSE is still a major unknown, as the guidance only dedicates nine pages to the topic. What’s more, the guidance leaves little room for innovation among actors outside of Ministries of Education. This may be why Projet Jeune Leader’s model for CSE seems so foreign when held up against typical notions of sexuality education delivery.
One of the most common things we hear from visitors is that you have to see Projet Jeune Leader to understand why it is special and why it works. Obviously, Madagascar is long trip (and expensive plane ticket) away, so we are instead charged with describing a program that’s never been described before.
This is difficult because local NGOs are not regarded as being integrable into existing school systems. Indeed, the guidance sums up this mindset quite frankly:
“Local NGOs serve as a valuable resource for schools and teachers to turn to for more information, or to invite as guest speakers to discuss topics that reinforce or complement the CSE curriculum. Some NGOs also have community-based CSE programmes in place.” (p. 88)
This part defined for NGOs is so cut-and-dried in the document, yet Projet Jeune Leader operates in a completely different role and capacity. We uphold all those characteristics of effective CSE programmes mentioned but are a local NGO which directly implements an integrated and multi-component CSE program in public middle schools.
While the guidance also states that “educators” should be “capable and motivated” (p. 95) – recognizing that CSE providers can be people other than standard teachers – there is still the repeated tendency throughout the document to frame CSE delivery as reliant on traditional systems of teachers and teacher-training.
Furthermore, the guidance delves into considerations of whether CSE-related content should be mandatory and examinable when deciding on a stand-alone or integrated programme. This talking point, that “both teachers and learners tend to take the content more seriously when exams or other assessment approaches are involved” (p.94), has never been a concern with our approach. We recruit, hire, and train dynamic and motivated young adults as sexuality educators, and our CSE curriculum is so fun, participatory, and engaging that students attend the class week after week, even though it is not examinable.
We maintain that the need for CSE is too great and immediate to rely on further renovation of existing institutions for delivery. Innovative approaches are needed to solve that big question mark on how to effectively provide quality CSE. Further development and promotion of innovative approaches to CSE delivery should begin by publishing more case studies (something which the 2018 guidance lacked), and major international players, such as the authors of the technical guidance, should prioritize this.
3. Finally, we feel validated in our approach when reading the guidance’s characteristics of effective CSE programmes.
Checking off line-after-line in the Key concepts, topics and learning objectives chapter confirmed what we already suspected: Our curriculum is as comprehensive as it gets. Furthermore, despite our unique model of CSE delivery, we share the common characteristics among effective CSE programmes. While we have always had promising data from monitoring and evaluation of our work, after four years of programming we are finally generating the solid evidence needed to be convince the larger, international community of this innovative approach (our end users - students, parents, and schools - have already bought-in). Stay tuned in the coming months for this exciting data.
There is no reason for why we shouldn’t bring this exact model to public middle schools across Madagascar, and even beyond the island. Our goal, and the goal of the international guidance, is to uphold all young people’s right to good quality comprehensive sexuality education. We are ready, as young people, to take charge for the future of Madagascar.
We just need the help of a few key players to help us achieve our strategic vision.
We can generate the evidence for the implementation process and impact of an innovative and replicable model of CSE delivery. To do this, we are looking for 1) an external expert consultant to co-lead the research, 2) financial commitment for a multi-year scale up, and 3) international platforms to disseminate the evidence in future international guidance.