MASERU – The Lesotho Demographic and Health Survey (2014) (LHDS) shows new HIV infections in men and women have start rising from girls aged between 18 and 19 years, and between 20 and 22 years for years. LHDS also reveals an average of 19 percent of highest teenage pregnancies are at the ages 18 and 19, with between 31.4 percent and 39.6 percent of women having begun child bearing at that age. It further indicates that teenage pregnancy is at 23 percent among rural teenagers and 12 percent among their urban counterparts. Teenage pregnancy is lowest in Maseru and highest in Botha-Bothe.
It is this reality that has led the Ministry of Education and Training to introduce life skills based sexuality education in secondary schools. The subject was introduced in schools around March 2019, and caused confusion among parents and communities, worried that the subject encourages children to engage in sexual activities. School books on sexual education showing people engaging in sexual activities and demanding children to label sexual body parts in native language also circulated on social media around that time, but the ministry failed to outrightly address the issue.
Instead, it released a statement only noting that the images circulating on social media were not theirs. This week Public Eye engaged the Curriculum Specialist on Life Skills Based Sexuality Education (LBSE), ‘Malesaoana Molapo, to explain more on the subject and the reasons for the ministry to introduce the subject as well as the intended outcomes. Molapo said they have discovered that between the ages of 15 and 17 most children have not yet started engaging in sexual activity, making it the crucial time for the subject to be introduced.
She said life skills based sexuality education aims to address health goals which, among others, includes early and unintended pregnancies, child marriage, HIV and STI infections. “The subject informs students on prevention of early and unintended pregnancies, how to avoid child marriage and how to report arranged and forced marriages. “The subject also advises students on how they can avoid being infected with STIs/HIV and how they are treated, importance of timely HIV testing, living with HIV, caring for HIV positive people and contributing towards 90-90-90 target,” she said.
The subject addresses myths and misconceptions about sexuality issues, peer pressure, lack of self-efficacy to adopt healthy lifestyles (drug, alcohol and substance abuse), risky practices such as multiple and concurrent partners, intergenerational relationships and transactional relationships. It also examines gender discrimination and practices such as arranged marriages, forced marriages and traditional surgical procedures, she added. Molapo said the subject is guided by the Curriculum and Assessment Policy (2009), the Education Sector strategic plan (2005-2015 and 2016-2026), the School Health Policy (2018), the Child Friendly School Pillars and International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education.
She said life skills based sexuality education, also known as comprehensive sexuality education, is age-appropriate and uses culturally relevant approaches to teaching about sexuality. “It provides scientifically correct knowledge about human development and anatomy, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, human rights, responsibilities and gender equality. “It develops skills to make informed decisions and act upon them and clarifies and strengthens positive values and attitudes to children,” she said.
LBSE also promotes self-awareness and develops interpersonal skills in students, raises awareness on risky places and behaviours and on how to avoid them, reduces early sexual debut, promotes abstinence and use of protective tools and ultimately reduces chances of HIV/STIs infection and pregnancy. The subject also corrects myths and misconceptions about sexuality, promotes openness about one’s sexuality, promotes demand for services, particularly sexual reproductive health rights services and raises awareness on available referral services.
LBSE, she noted, does not teach students how to engage in sex, does not promote promiscuity, does not teach disrespect and does not impose personal values. Molapo noted pre-service teacher training is given to teachers and sexuality education is taught as a compulsory course for four years for Bachelor of Education students at the National University of Lesotho and revision of curriculum to include sexuality education is ongoing at the Lesotho College of Education. “The Ministry of Education is still planning on supporting institutions of higher learning and has so far trained at least four teachers and a principal per primary school, one teacher and school principal per secondary schools.”