The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Sex Education Remains Unspoken in Secondary Schools

Various entertainment and media outlets bombard viewers with depictions of sexuality in some Western countries. Nevertheless, this aspect of popular culture opens doors for parents who dare to enter into discussions about sex with their children.

This is a direct contrast to that of Rwanda where the intimate details of one's sex life is often kept private; hidden from public view. Talking about sex is considered, by most families, a stray from cultural norms.

Culturally, there does not appear to be a clear definition of sex education in Rwanda.

Without a curriculum for sex education, both parents and teachers are confused about who is responsible for teaching about the do's and don'ts.

This is highly problematic for young adults who must become self-aware about living a healthy sex life.

In a series of interviews, different players in the education sector said Rwandan youth are not provided with a curriculum directly relating to sexual education.

Annette Mutamuliza, the legal representative of King David Academy in Kicukiro, says; "Sex education is never taught. The government encourages schools to teach it but we don't have the courses in our curricula."

The dangers that lurk in place of its absence include exposing students to teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as HIV/Aids, and other grim realities.

Recently, the Gender Monitoring Office released a report indicating that 522 unwanted pregnancies among girls between 10-18 years were registered in 2012 in the country.

Valens Songa, the Principal of Excella Academy in Gasabo says that counselling sessions for children of all age groups is necessary in schools. "General Paper is not enough."

General Paper is composed of a series of classes offered to students in Senior 4, 5, and 6.

Diet and health education are offered at the Senior 5 level, where issues regarding sex education may arise but it is not the main focus.

Outside of General Paper, aspects of health regarding the female body and reproductive health are discussed in biology.

Songa has served as Excella Academy's principal since its inception in 2008.

He strongly believes today's educators provide students with just enough knowledge to prepare for exams and excel.

"They are not teaching life lessons," he exclaimed.

"If I had to give a percentage I would say that 80 per cent of students are teaching themselves about sex," he says.

Songa did say that he felt the government does a good job of promoting anti-HIV/Aids campaigns throughout the country, sensitising Rwandan citizens both inside and outside the City of Kigali.

The First Lady, Jeannette Kagame, through Imbuto Foundation promoted HIV prevention and encouraged sexual reproductive health amongst other related issues through the Mountain Movers campaign in 2012.

Through the SSF/HIV Mountain Movers programme, the foundation promotes positive behaviours by uplifting Rwandan values among adolescents and adults from ages 15-24 in 12 districts of the country.

In the past the Imbuto Foundation has launched a number of sensitisation campaigns to improve parent- adolescent communication regarding sexual health.

"NGO's also conduct condom distribution campaigns at the university level," Songa added.

NGO's also hold condom distribution programmes at sector headquarters as shared by the Deputy Principal of College Ami Des Enfants, Loharlacks Mutebi.

Government responsibility

Neither a principal nor headteacher may introduce a new curriculum, even if it is in demand, unless it is designed and approved by the Curriculum Development Centre.

"Only the government has the authority to design curricula," says Mutebi.

In addition, some school officials appear to be confused about whose responsibility it is to educate youth about safe sex practices: the parent, teacher, or the student.

Some teachers automatically assume that parents do the work at home as shared by Principal Mutebi and 19-year old Grace Ingabire.

Conversely, "Parents don't engage their children because they assume that they have learned it in school," Ingabire says.

Ingabire, a Senior 6 student at College Ami Des Enfants, was not shy about sharing her position on the topic; "I feel comfortable approaching my guardians first, my friends next, and my parents last."

At 18 years-old, Darius Kalisa, also a S enior 6 student at College Ami Des Enfants, says parents shy away from the topic because they can't find the veiled words for things that they should say. Without hesitation Kalisa said, "Not everyone in Rwanda can talk to their kids about sex."

Despite the fact that there is no set curriculum available for sex education Father Lambert Dusingizimana, Principal of St. Andre College in Nyamirambo, says there are other opportunities for adults to initiate the conversation, which include "culture, family, and informal education".

He refers to culture as conversations between a mother and daughter or peers within the classroom. He refers to informal education as school clubs or media advertisements.

Father Dusingizimana asserted, "School clubs are an important tool to not only teach students about sex education but, a variety of challenging topics." Such clubs include Anti-Sida (Anti-HIV/Aids) Anti-Drug Club, and Facing History Club, that teach students about the importance of combating genocide ideology.

When discussing the curriculum as it remains in Rwanda, he shared conception and implementations are important steps in the curriculum development process. It is during the implementation phase where "you find weaknesses" and "discover" the edits needed to make studies more interesting for students and teachers alike.

"The reality is everybody is busy, they [parents] don't have time to be with their children," he concludes.

Upon discussing the issue of unplanned pregnancies, Dusingizimana shared "teen pregnancy is a problem in Rwanda... of course."

A recent pregnancy scandal in Groupe Scolaire Nsinda in Rwamagana district would prove Father Dusingizimana right.

Out of 26 pregnancies some were actually linked to teachers and one former school administrator.

Several efforts to contact Joyce Musabe, in charge of curriculum development in the Ministry of Education, were fruitless as she could not provide a quote for the article for the several times she was contacted.

From a parent's perspective, Valens Songa says parents should start teaching their children as soon as they start asking questions about their body or gender.

"If you are a good teacher you take that opportunity and say boys and girls are different," he says. In this way lines of communication are open from an early age.

In the absence of a sex education curriculum nervous parents and caregivers may very well continue to dismiss frank conversations due to their reservations.

The role of the parent becomes the responsibility of the teacher. This obligation then falls upon the Rwandan youth, as well as the growing pains associated with it.

Pamela Connell, Deputy Principal of Welfare and Boarding at Riviera High School, says, "National curriculum needs to include the subject areas as specific units of work, providing discussion time for students, and research where access is available."

She shared that certain aspects of gender differences and menstrual health have already been added due to efforts by among others Julian Ingabire, Country Director of Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE).

SHE is an NGO dedicated to providing sustainable access to affordable sanitary products and services for females.

Connell said the subject is better dealt with on an age-by-age and gender basis informally.

This is due to the level of sensitivity regarding the topic until the ministry addresses it.

Connell served as the curriculum developer for Kigali Institute of Education in 2012.

At this time an English Communications Skills course was implemented for the humanities curriculum where students can practice English and simultaneously learn about matters of sexual health: dating, safe sex practices, abstinence, intimacy, HIV/Aids and prevention, birth control and a number of other important topics at hand.

A countrywide sex-education curriculum designed the Ministry of Education may assist parents and teachers alike to become comfortable and more knowledgeable sex educators.

The National Curriculum Development Centre is expected to enforce a new curriculum for students from Senior 1 to Senior 4 that will begin in 2014. Hopefully, under the course listing of life education there is room set aside for a sex education curriculum.

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