By Anna D’Addio, Daniel April, Manuela Pombo, Maria Rafaela Kaldi, Dorothy Wang (GEM Report) and Joanna Herat, Parviz Abduvahobov, Arushi Singh, Leonie Werner (UNESCO)
A new set of 50 country profiles on comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) will be launched today during a webinar hosted jointly by the GEM Report, UNESCO Section of Health and Education and Sweden.
The country profiles respond to the need for better data to monitor CSE progress and are prepared by the UNESCO’s Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report and the UNESCO Section of Health and Education. These profiles are available on the Profiles Enhancing Education Reviews website (PEER) of the GEM Report, which also hosts country profiles on other themes that are central to SDG 4.
The CSE country profiles are prepared through the review and synthesis of international commitments, national laws, policies, action plans and programmes and provide a comparative perspective of the progress countries are making in relation to CSE. They cover all regions of the world and all income levels. While they provide a synthesis of national regulations, including laws, policies and decrees, as well as sectoral or development plans and strategies, the profiles are not intended to examine or discuss implementation.
Each country profile covers five main areas: 1. Contexts; 2. Terminology; 3. Laws and Policies; 4. Governance; 5. Monitoring and evaluation
A brochure published online accompanies the launch of these 50 profiles. It reports on the measures developed to assess progress and identifies key trends observed, which suggest many countries recognize the importance of sexuality education in their education plans or visions, but that gaps remain in their legislative and policy frameworks.
What do the profiles suggest about comprehensive sexuality education?
The GEM Report’s PEER and UNESCO Section of Health and Education teams developed 47 measures to assess progress in CSE. The figure below reports on 9 of those.
Out of 50 countries…
Several positive trends emerge
- Most countries have some kind of supportive legal framework for CSE in education and/or, more often, in public health. In Argentina, the Comprehensive Sexuality Education Law (Law No. 26.150) (2006) recognizes CSE as a right in both state and non-state educational establishments and at all educational levels. In Zambia, the Education Act (2011) contains regulations ‘providing for the development and adoption of guidelines to promote education on sexuality, reproductive health, HIV and AIDS and personal relationships in any educational institution’. In Liberia, the Public Health Law (revised in 2019) established the right of all adolescents to attain the highest standard of age-appropriate and gender-sensitive sexuality education and to make informed choices regarding access to sexual and reproductive health care services.
- Policies or plans covering CSE are much more frequent than laws, suggesting countries’ aspiration to make progress on sexuality education. In Côte d’Ivoire, the National Policy on Sexual, Reproductive and Child Health (2020) highlights that sexuality education for adolescents and young people should be adapted to their specific context and needs and supports counselling and modern contraception, protection against forced marriage, and the prevention of sexual and other forms of violence. In the Philippines, the Policy Guidelines on the Implementation of Comprehensive Sexuality Education seek to ensure the effective delivery of CSE. In Lesotho, the 2016-2026 Education Sector Plan outlines strategies and actions for addressing HIV, health and well-being as one of its cross-cutting issues. Specific objectives include the implementation of aspects of CSE and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and the mainstreaming of HIV/AIDS into education sub-sector activities.
- Legislation and policies promote the integration of CSE into the formal curriculum. The General Education Law (Law 115/1994) of Colombia (1994) specifies that sexuality education is compulsory in all public and private establishments, offering formal education at the pre-school, basic and secondary education levels. Each school may determine its sexuality education programme and teaching strategies. In Vietnam, Decision 16/2006/QD-BGDĐT and Circular 32/2018/TT-BGDDT on the General Education Programme call for the inclusion of sex education content at the primary level. In most countries, topics related to sexuality are integrated into a range of subjects. In Sierra Leone, the National Curriculum Framework and Guidelines for Basic Education (2020) mandates SRH education for elementary and junior high schools and integrates it into five subjects: social studies, integrated sciences, religious and moral education, home economics, and physical health education.
- In-service training for teachers is present in the majority of countries. In Argentina, Resolution CFE N° 340 mandates that pre-service training covers the acquisition of comprehensive, up-to-date and scientifically validated knowledge on the different dimensions of CSE, as well as the skills necessary for teaching it to children and adolescents. In the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, teachers are required to undergo 40 hours of in-service training and 40 hours of pre-service training before they can teach CSE subjects.
- Schools play a key role in providing sexual and reproductive health services. In Liberia, the Public Health Law (2019) states that schools should make information available about where to access sexual and reproductive health services. Malawi’s National Education Standards (2015) state that once schools identify students with early pregnancies or those living with HIV, they must support their learning and care. In South Africa, the Integrated School Health Policy (2012) stipulates that a package of on-site services that include sexual and reproductive health services should be provided in all schools. In Vietnam, the Ministry of Health’s follow-up project implementation document aims for 80% of schools to have plans to provide reproductive and sexual health care for adolescents and young adults.
- Comprehensive sexuality education is often a shared responsibility between multiple state- and non-state actors. In Gabon, the Gabon Equality programme states that the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education (responsible for civic education) collaborate on a travelling caravan to raise awareness in SRH in school. In Nigeria, the National Council on Education formally approved a sexuality education curriculum for use in Nigerian schools in 2001. This was developed through a participatory and consultative process that involved NGOs from all regions of the country, as well as international agencies
Despite progress being underway, more remains to be done
Most of the countries reviewed have some kind of supportive legal framework for CSE. While legal frameworks do not guarantee their implementation, they are a crucial pillar for ensuring an enabling policy environment. The linkages between CSE and the demand and supply of SRH services need to be strengthened with comprehensive health and education policies. More efforts should also be directed at filling the gaps between the stated outcome in laws and policies and what happens in practice. Making sexuality education compulsory is important, but this is not happening everywhere. And too few countries have pre-service training in place to prepare teachers to teach sexuality education.
Budget allocation towards sexuality education is rare, even in countries that have recorded the most progress in this area. In terms of monitoring, only a few countries collect data to track progress on how well sexuality education is taught and learned in school.
Raising awareness about CSE and involving all stakeholders is essential to educate young populations on issues that foster inclusive societies. Follow-up work by countries is thus required to address these gaps, raise awareness, inform all stakeholders and also to guide implementation.
Note: The 50 countries covered here are: Argentina, Armenia, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Gabon, Georgia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Indonesia, Kiribati, Kyrgyzstan, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Moldova, Mongolia, Namibia, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Peru, the Philippines, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sweden, Tajikistan, Thailand, Togo, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia. The list covers all countries in the Sexuality Education Review and Assessment Tool (SERAT) Excel-based tool, which is designed to help countries collect data and analyse the strengths and gaps in their sexuality education programmes in primary and secondary schools. Countries were also selected according to other criteria of regional representativeness, income and religion.