Lessons about sexuality can be fun too.
Karin Van Kooten | July/August 2012 Issue
Isaac Kiyaga likes to work with computers. So the 16-year-old student at the Bukomero School, in the central Ugandan district of Kiboga, registered for a digital curriculum. But he quickly discovered how enjoyable it is to help his peers tackle all kinds of problems. “My goal was to be a soldier,” says Kiyaga. “But now I made up my mind that I want to be a doctor. In our society doctors are very scarce.”
This is the remarkable result of a curriculum entitled The World Starts with Me, designed to teach young people to make healthy decisions about their sexual behavior. The curriculum has proven to be a valuable supplement to the standard education on HIV/AIDS in Uganda, where the main messages are about abstinence, fidelity and the importance of condoms. In a country where, according to the UN organization UNAIDS, 6.5 percent of the population has HIV/AIDS and one in four girls become pregnant before their 18th birthday, an innovative approach to education is of vital importance.
The lessons take a lighter tone for teaching teenagers about relationships and sexuality as well as self-esteem and social skills. Students describe their dreams, including plans to realize them. This gives them practical guidelines and helps them develop the mental power they need to protect themselves against teenage pregnancy and sexual violence. Meanwhile, they are developing a positive self-image and vision of the future.
The curriculum, which was developed by Rutgers WPF, a Dutch center for sexual and reproductive health allied with the World Population Foundation, and social design studio Butterfly Works, is also on the ground in Kenya, Indonesia and Thailand. Hundreds of thousands of young people at over 3,000 secondary schools have now completed the curriculum.
Ismael Msereko, a teacher in Kiboga, said he sees lasting behavioral changes in teenagers who have completed the curriculum, including more discipline. “The lessons also have an impact on how they want their future, and what they are working for,” he says. One tangible example: Of the hundreds of girls in his school who have completed the curriculum, not one has so far become pregnant.