By Andrew Magombo:
Christopher Hussein, 15, is a proactive special needs student at Magawa Secondary School in Mchinji District.
As an adolescent currently in Form 1, his focus on getting adequate knowledge on comprehensive sexuality education is relentless.
Unlike most of his peers who shy away from engaging in such topics, Hussein is fond of setting the pace at any given opportunity.
“I cannot make a distinction about who I open up to the most between teachers and my colleagues because I want to learn more about adolescence challenges and experiences we encounter at school or in the communities.”
In retrospect, some conversations he engages are more one sided if the person he is communicating to is being economic with information relating life skills on sex.
“I wish I could say the same about my peers and teachers because not every person I talk to comfortably shares information,” Hussein said.
His utmost concern; however, is when the information not clearly being shared is crucial to his academic assessment.
In Secondary Schools, issues surrounding CSEs are usually included in curriculums of some subjects like Biology and Life Skills.
Melsent Nthuzi, a Life Skills and English Teacher at Magawa Secondary School admits the challenge of relaying sexuality lessons to students in the fairest language and suitable manner for adolescents.
“It is hard when you have to contextualize it in a way they can understand considering their age however, we still ensure that the lessons are being delivered as expected,” she ssaid.
In March 2018, UNESCO launched a project titled ‘Our Rights, Our lives, Our Future’ which seeks to improve sexual and reproductive health (SRH), gender and education outcomes for adolescents and young people in the sub-Saharan Africa region.
The project seeks to improve SRH through sustained reductions in the new HIV/STI infections, early pregnancies and gender based violence through developing of skills, knowledge, attitudes and competencies in comprehensive sexual education.
In essence, it supports the delivery of accurate, rights-based and good quality comprehensive sexuality education programmes that provide knowledge, values and skills essential for safer behaviors, reduced adolescent pregnancy, and gender equality.
Last year in 2021, UNESCO granted funds to Art and Global Health Centre Africa (ArtGlo), a non-governmental organization (NGO) that harnesses the influence of using arts to foster creative leadership and ignite bold conversation and actions.
Since then, ArtGlo has been bringing to the surface experiences of teachers and students, along with their perception and attitudes towards delivery of comprehensive sexuality education in schools.
Further to that, the NGO has also been gauging values and belief around CSE with an eye on identification of gaps which will exude improvement in regards to its delivery in schools.
After conducting CSE assessments in Machinga District, ArtGlo partnered with the Mchinji District Education authorities and Her Liberty NGO to assess learners and teachers from at least 20 secondary schools.
Programmes Officer for ArtGlo, Lekodi Magombo said the UNESCO-funded assessment project was all inclusive as it reflects the needs of young people including youth living with disabilities.
He added that a full assessment was yet to be compiled but traits of culture and knowledge clashes are standing out as gaps that will gain ideas on sustainable mechanisms to enhance delivery of CSE.
Magombo pointed out that, “Through general conversations so far most of the barriers are stemming from cultural norms which bar them from participating in class sessions and it also happens vice versa when they are in the communities.”
“Preliminarily we have noticed that students talk more on these issues among themselves than with teachers so we want to identify the gaps and figure out how we can help solve the challenges through different approaches.”
Concurring with Magombo, Mnthuzi who also teaches in Form 1, said initiatives like the youth-teacher dialogue assessment play a pivotal role in enhancement of their capacity to teach learners using different skills and extra resources to effectively deliver CSE.
She said that,“Sometimes I feel a bit uncomfortable teaching young learners who look shy when I am giving lessons on sensitive topics but I never show it and rather use the learner centered skills to help them understand,”
“ArtGlo has taught us that we can also use role plays and cultural musical games like Ogode, Nzama and Kambuzi kalinkhonde to teach some CSE concepts difficult for the younger ones to comprehend.”
It is expected that the Ministry of Education will make use of the findings in improving the curriculum of Comprehensive Sexuality Education with Nkhatabay slated for the third and final assessment after Machinga and Mchinji.
District Education Manager for Mchinji, Evelyn Kamtedza said government welcomes the initiative by ArtGlo as it has a bearing on multifaceted policy making and implementation of youth related programme.
She said that there was prerequisite communication between government and the organization before rolling out of the assessment among learners and teachers.
“If we can get real facts on the ground about delivery of comprehensive sexuality education in schools, it will help us map out different challenges being encountered in our schools,” Kamtedza stated.
Currently, the country is savoring new heights in regards to reducing the prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS as set by international accords.
Malawi has met the second and third UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets before the 2025 target date as the current prevalence hovers around 8.9 percent.
However, recent findings by National Aids Commission indicate that new infections among youth, a majority of population, in the country are on the rise.
Some quarters have rued the development on failure by institutions including schools and communities to engage youth openly on issues concerning their sexuality.
Regardless, Non-government organizations like Art Glo have set the tone in opening spaces for free conversation and dialogues between teachers and learners on comprehensive sexuality education.
Through usage of images, role-plays, music and games with key information of comprehensive sexuality education during lessons, there is room for curtailing further spread of sexually transmitted diseases among the future leaders of the country.