4 March 2008

Nigeria: Why Family Life Education is Everyone's Business

Lagos — At the age of 11, Eve, not her real name, was invited by a maternal uncle to 'play'. It was only when she turned 17 that she realised that that play was actually sex and that a trusted family member had made her a woman.

It took another five years or thereabout for Eve, now in her 20s, to confide in her friend. She had not been able to tell her mother, she said.

Act Two, Scene Two: A male teacher once took his all-female class through the parts of the body as stipulated in the scheme of work. Although no physical contact was reported between him and the students, some of them, perhaps innocently, recounted the day's lesson to their parents; who, to say the least, were livid. They sought the transfer of the teacher to another school. Unable to take this, the enraged teacher also sought a change of career and became a Warder.

These are not fables. They were actual events that took place, not in some faraway land, but in Nigeria. They were just two of the experiences, not necessarily those of the people who recounted them, that were shared by participants at the recent four-day Training of Teachers as Facilitators of the Family Life, HIV and AIDS Education (FLHE) curriculum, held in Kaduna. These incidents underlined the ignorance that had pervaded the society as far as sexuality (not sex) education, or what is now better known as FLHE was concerned.

If Eve's 'uncle' was HIV positive, the story of her life might have been very different today. How does a young girl or boy (participants learnt that boys are also sexually abused by adult homosexuals, who are sometimes people known to them) protect herself or himself against every form of abuse? How does he or she say 'No' to inappropriate body contacts or unwholesome associations even amongst peers? How does a teacher or parent present age appropriate information on HIV and AIDS, sexuality education, etc to the pupils, students, or child?

The training was organised by the Federal Ministry of Education and UNESCO, with the support of the Japanese government, to provide answers to these and more questions by building human capacity of Education Managers and teachers across the country to implement the FLHE; help participants appreciate the key methodology for HIV/AIDS life-skills delivery in the classrooms, as well as help them to understand the implications of HIV and AIDS and the role of the schools in the education sector to reduce its prevalence in the country.

Participants included, primary school teachers, Head Teachers, teacher trainers from the Colleges of Education, adult and non formal educators, as well non governmental organisations. These and the parents at home, as the first teachers of children, are critical to the success of the FLHE.

Information is Key. If the parents of the students in the incident narrated above had known better, perhaps, that teacher that took at least 15 years to train, would not have been lost to the Prisons Service. Maybe, if Eve's mother had also befriended her and taken time to give her some sexuality education, she might have recognised the different kinds of 'plays', how to deal with such invitations and be free to report any abuse. FLHE is every Nigerian's responsibility. The Minister of Education, Dr. Igwe Aja-Nwachuku, who was represented by the Chief Coordinating Inspector, North West Zone of the Federal Inspectorate Services, Dr. Elisha Kutara said HIV/AIDS was a development issue. "If you are not infected, you are affected."

But the greater responsibility rests with the education sector. Teachers must be comfortable to teach it. Every educator at whatever level, including the home, must overcome the phobia for sex and be able to talk to young people about it, so that they can be protected. As both the UNESCO Representative in Nigeria, Dr. Abhimanyu Singh and the National Coordinator of the Education Sector Response to HIV/AIDS, Mrs. Zulaikatu Momodu observed, the education sector holds the future of the country as it provides the window of hope - children between the ages of five and 14 who are HIV negative. "It is our responsibility to keep them so", Momodu said.

One of the participants, Programme Officer, Reproductive Health, Adolescent Health and Information Projects, Miss Patricia Rowland observed that there was an initial apprehension, particularly amongst the participants, to talk openly about sex and call body parts by their real names. The Trainers therefore concentrated on increasing their 'comfort levels'.

"Before the first day ended however", she said, "Apprehension came down to almost zero level. What we had at the end of the day were stakeholders who became passionate and enthusiastic to mitigate the spread of HIV amongst the future of our tomorrow, that is young people."

The challenges that the curriculum faced before it became acceptable to all the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), due to socio-cultural and religious differences, had been discussed, earlier, on this page. FLHE curriculum was developed by the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC), with inputs from the Action Health Incorporated (AHI), Federal Ministry of Education, National Actions Committee on AIDS (NACA), International Women's Health Coalition (IWHC), the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Bank.

The curriculum has been structured in such a way that it provides a framework for the acquisition of knowledge of self and family living from childhood to adulthood. It also reflects a comprehensive approach to HIV prevention education from primary to tertiary levels. The learner-oriented document was organised around six themes: Human Development, Personal Skills, Sexual Health, Relationships, Sexual Behaviour, as well as Society and Culture.

FLHE is compulsory from primary to junior secondary schools. A FLHE curriculum for Colleges of Education, that train teachers for basic education, has also been developed. 'Family Life and Emerging Health Issues (FLEHI)' is now a compulsory two-credit course for all Year One students.

The Kaduna training was the third in the series, after similar exercises in Ada, Osun State and Abakaliki in Ebonyi State. The last in the series, is scheduled to hold in Bauchi, later this month. The best among the Trainees will form the crop of trainers in each of the zones.

Singh said, although "the training started on a reasonably small scale, we expect that we will work with other UN partners and the Government of Nigeria, at the federal and state levels to continue the effort so that we can cover a critical mass of teachers in all parts of Nigeria.

For the participants, the Dean of Students at the Federal College of Education (Technical), Gusau, Salisu Alhaji Sadi and Adamu Durbunde, who lectures at the

Federal College of Education, Kano and his counterpart at the Federal College of Education, Technical, Zamfara, Amina Abdullahi, variously described the training as an eye opener on the skills required for dealing with real life problems and in training the students to train their pupils.

Usman A. Kwasara, Desk Officer HIV/AIDS at the Kebbi State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), thanked the organisers, saying, "a lot has been gained in the training. It was handled by competent professionals and committed resource persons. It will be a pleasure to share the knowledge gained with those who did not attend."

Head of Department of Physical and Health Education at the Federal College of Education, Kano, Dr. Emmanuel Adeyanju, said, the training "has come at a time when there is the need to touch more than the usual sexuality and family life education as found in the PHE curriculum. The current procedure is highly simplified and all encompassing. All can easily accept it. It should be embraced."

A teacher at the Ungwan Maichibi Primary School II, Kaduna South, Mrs. Martha Zom, said the programme should be sustained because it is educative. The training should also come with teaching aids and extended to about a week so that participants can derive the maximum benefit from it.

Head Teacher of Mohammed Dodo Ibrahim Science Model Primary school, Katsina, Hajiya Binta Mohammed Saulawa said the training was very educative, interesting and lively.

President of the Centre for Non- Formal Education and Training (CENFET), Abuja, Dr. Rosemary Nwangwu said the training was a very strategic way of reaching young people with sexuality education. The workshop has been very participative, that way; lessons learnt are sustainable among the teachers who have also been taught creative ways of teaching the topics for effectiveness.

Desk Officer, HIV/AIDS, at the Kano State Agency for Mass Education, Mrs. Aisha Halliru said she was now armed with useful information for the eight centres of the Agency in the state and also for her HIV/AIDS activities in the 44 Local Government Areas,

Another HIV/AIDS Desk Officer at the Kebbi State Agency for Adult and non-formal Education, Kabiru Abdulahi Kamba commended the Facilitators for a job well done. He called on the Federal Ministry of Education and UNESCO to take the training to the grassroots by empowering state agencies to conduct similar training for their facilitators, organisers and supervisors at local government level. Four days are also not enough for the training. According to him, two weeks would be more like it.

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