Sex education and the fight against teenage pregnancy

Youngsters uneducated about sex are more likely to have unintended pregnancies. This is because they do not fully understand the biological and emotional aspects associated with sexual intercourse. Therefore, educationists say, it is important and timely for teachers to consider incorporating awareness and prevention strategies with respect to teenage pregnancy, in their curriculum. 

Like it is around the world, in Rwanda, the fight against teenage pregnancy is a hostile one. Various government initiatives have been set up, boosted by drives like Baho Neza Integrated Health Campaign that seek to tackle teenage pregnancy and raise awareness on family planning and maternal health.

But with teen pregnancy still very much an issue, one can’t help but wonder if we are losing this battle. Which brings many to the questions — what is a teacher’s role exactly, and how soon should learners be enlightened? 

Roles

Children are exposed to information about sex from sources such as school, friends and the media at a much earlier age than many parents expect. However, educationists say society as a whole has a role to play in sex education, and shouldn’t be limited to teachers only. 

Teachers serve as important parts of a comprehensive approach in the prevention of teenage pregnancy. They promote academic success, connectedness and self-worth, all of which have been shown to reduce high-risk behaviours among teens. 

It is also necessary for teachers to hold and lead discussions and debates on sex education in class. Similarly, they could include the implementation of comprehensive programmes in their curriculum that include support, education, tutoring and recreation. 

Schools are encouraged to tackle sexual education for all students at an early stage to avoid risks. Net photo.

The inclusion of these will encourage positive youth development and significantly help reduce unwanted pregnancies, as stated in an article published by online educational platform, Seekapor. 

Teen moms weigh in

Previous media reports in Rwanda stated that in 2018 alone 19,832 underage girls were impregnated. Nyagatare District had 1,465 cases; Gatsibo 1,452 cases, Gasabo 1,064 and Kirehe had 1,055 cases.

A total of 17, 337 cases of teenage pregnancies were reported in 2017, as per the National Institute for Statistics of Rwanda (NISR).

Among the impregnated young girls were orphans, vulnerable children and children with disabilities who were most exposed to sexual abuse and exploitation nationwide.

However, with the number of victims in the age range of 12 to 16, education experts say that there is urgent need for schools to play their role, a strategy that can help reverse the trend. 

At the age of 14, Uwase became sexually active. Two years later, she was having unsafe sex, got pregnant and contracted a sexually transmitted disease. At this point in her life, she was rejected by friends and family. Subsequently, dropping out of school for a year.

Unfortunately, the now-29 year-old mother didn’t know the father of her child. She had multiple sexual partners.

She told Education Times, “If I had a way of pumping sense into every student’s head, I would do it to convince them to stay away from sex until the right time. The ugly outcomes haunt your life and you regret why you weren’t patient. The situation made me hate my teachers and my parents for having not talked to me about these issues earlier when I was growing up.”

“Institutions starting from primary to secondary schools have to take this initiative upon themselves. I believe we should start teaching students about contraception, safer sex, relationships and critical thinking at an early age. This will undoubtedly help them make informed decisions on matters of sexual relationships,” Maurice Twahirwa, a head teacher at APADET Primary School, says.

Twahirwa highlights that most teachers are normally reluctant to cover insights of this matter, and as a result, they resort to teaching the fundamentals of reproduction, contraception and puberty in science lessons.

“Teachers and school administrations should also fight the custom of reserving such lessons for secondary students. It is true that you will find a student learning about puberty perhaps when they are even past that stage. By and large we (schools) are depriving these lessons of their significance. This will eventually help reduce the number of teenage girls becoming victims of unwanted pregnancies,” Twahirwa says. 

Uwingabire, mother of a three-year-old girl and Kacyiru resident, recalls getting into trouble towards the end of her secondary school completion.

“I was finishing my last year in school and got pregnant. I was horrified. I wanted to abort so that I would not be forced to leave school. I knew that my future would be dim. When I found out that that abortion wasn’t an option, I contemplated suicide. However, my mother stopped me after she learnt about my situation from a close friend,” the now 21-year-old laments.

Curbing teenage pregnancy might seem like an impossible task, but that is not the case, says a source from the Ministry of Education who requested anonymity. 

“Schools have been able to practise sex education in young students, though not all schools, but we are putting more effort to ensure that young girls do not fall victim due to ignorance,” the source says.

When is the right time for sex education?

Maurice Kayijamahe, a student teacher and IT expert, is afraid that a golden opportunity has in some respects been badly missed.

“I believe we are not doing enough for students, especially primary school students. Primary children are not taught anything until they are 10, or possibly 11. They need to learn about puberty before it starts happening to them, given that these days that can happen when a child is nine or even younger,” he says. 

Kayijamahe also points out that children are already ‘aware of sex’. They pick information by the time they are 10. Most of it wrong. “It is at this point that schools should be the solemn source of factual information.”

Angello Ruhumuliza, a teacher, says, “There is a link between the quality of a child’s social education and academic progress, but we don’t seem to be doing a great deal about it.

“If the government gave it as much support as it has literacy, we might be able to make real progress.”

Joan Murungi, the head of curriculum, teaching and learning resources department at REB, says that the subject should vary with age.

“In the current curriculum, students are exposed to the matter when they join secondary school. The aim is to get youngsters thinking more profoundly about issues surrounding sex and pregnancy, not simply improving their knowledge of the ‘facts of life’. Therefore, more priority is given to secondary school students,” she says. 

However, Murungi also believes that in order to alleviate the task, teachers should abandon the mentality of the subject being ‘too complicated for young ones’.

“Teachers are often nervous of the topic and many are not acquainted with the teaching style it demands.”

Solutions

Fidele Rutayisire, the executive secretary of Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (RWAMREC), earlier said that they are working with boys and girls towards eliminating this.

“We’re not only working with girls, but we are also going to schools to educate students, not just the girls, on how to help increase efforts in fighting teenage pregnancy,” he says.

Rutayisire also said that they are working with Rwanda Governance Board and Canada Initiative for Local Family to scale up efforts in curbing the vice.

Sam Kalinda, a project manager at Care International, echoes the same sentiments citing a programme — Safe Schools for Girls — that is being implemented in 174 schools in five districts.

Recent statistics show that it is reaching up to 47,564 adolescent students (27,797 girls and 19,767 boys) in lower secondary education, ranging from the age of 11 to 18 years.

According to Seekapor, teachers should make it a point to interact with parents on how to help children deal with sex curiosity, peer pressure and the stress that comes with adolescence. Having a good dialogue with parents and sharing resources with them can help to make them better informed on the importance of having conversations on early sex and its consequences at an early stage with their kids, which will be absolutely beneficial. 

This is because the more teens know about the repercussions of unprotected sex and how to prevent them, the more likely they will be willing to wait until they are truly ready to take on the responsibility of raising a child.

The inclusion of these will encourage positive youth development and significantly help reduce unwanted pregnancies.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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