Comprehensive Sexuality Education Implementation in Ghana - Concepts, Context And Content

Feature Article Comprehensive Sexuality Education Implementation in Ghana - Concepts, Context And Content
NOV 22, 2019 LISTEN

Traditionally sex/sexual education in schools limits its scope to biological/physiological functions of the human body. The concept of teaching sex/sexual education has evolved over time into the current situation where UNESCO wants all children (including pre-school ones) to be given Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) globally. CSE is defined as a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality. (International Technical guidelines on sexuality education, revised edition, page 17) CSE is based on a human rights approach and designed to develop school curricula and community-based programs and materials. The critical issues that arise out of the definition are what is sexuality education? Are the goals/objectives of sexuality education the same as the traditional sex education? what are the dangers of exposing children to comprehensive sexuality education with its obvious promotion of LGBTQI sexual concepts and practices under the guise of human rights considerations?

The concept of CSE, and its associated scope of implementation has become a major bone of contention among different cultures and faiths globally. This is rightly so because as a concept, it has an elastic range of acceptable behaviors that to many defy nature, common sense and human identity and dignity. Other terms used interchangeably for CSE globally are Prevention Education, Relationship and Sexuality Education, Family-Life Education, HIV Education, Life Skills Education, Healthy Lifestyles and Basic Life Safety (International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education, page 12). These alternate terms reveal the pervasive intent and nature of the CSE agenda. The International Technical Guidelines further states that, “regardless of the term used, comprehensive refers to the development of learners’ knowledge, skills and attitudes for positive sexuality and good sexual and reproductive health. The guidelines indicate irrespective of the term used in implementing CSE, it should have a firm grounding in human rights and recognition of the broad concept of sexuality as a natural part of human development (page 12 of the International guidelines).”

Sex, traditionally refers to being a male or female or the act of having sexual intercourse between a male and female. A more comprehensive definition of sex sees it as the sum of the structural, functional, and sometimes behavioral characteristics of organisms that distinguishes males from females (Mariam Webster’s Dictionary).

Sexual, from the Oxford dictionary, relates to the instinct, physiological processes, and activities connected with physical attraction or intimate physical contact between individuals.

Sexuality however goes well beyond sex or being sexual. It is generally defined as the different ways of expressing one’s sexual desires. This encompasses all kinds of expression of sexual desires including but not limited to; men who sleeps with men, women who sleeps with women, multiple men and women sleeping together at the same time, men and women opting to sleep with animals, among many others. Thus, the full implementation of CSE in everyday life could threaten the very existence and procreation of humanity and the self-actualization of individuals. In fact, UNESCO says it is a complex and subjective concept and differs between cultures, faith, regions etc. (International Technical guidance on Sexuality education, revised edition, page 17).

Sexuality in CSE relates to ‘the understanding of, and relationship to, the human body; emotional attachment and love; gender; gender identity; sexual orientation; sexual intimacy; pleasure and reproduction (International Technical guidelines on sexuality education, revised edition, page 17). The technical guidelines referred to clearly recognizes the scope of sexuality in CSE to include biological, social, psychological, spiritual, religious, political, legal, historical, ethical and cultural dimensions that evolve over a lifespan.

The definition and scope of sexuality as conceived in the UNESCO International guidelines is so fluid that it is unacceptable that preschool children, who have yet to develop their world views should be exposed to such concepts and become indoctrinated to accept unnatural/unusual practices even before they can begin to do the basic things in life for and by themselves.

CSE implementation in Ghana is guided by the GES National guidelines on CSE which also derives its strength from the UNESCO International Technical Guidelines on CSE. In fact, the objective of CSE is to have convergence of perceptions on sexuality across the globe. CSE is part of the Educational Goals (SDG 4) of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by member countries of UNESCO. Ghana has signed onto these 17 SDGs.

In February 2019, at the joint launch of CSE between UNESCO and Ghana, it was made very clear that six countries in Africa have been selected for full implementation of CSE in 2019. These countries are Ghana, Eswatini, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is therefore obvious that the objectives of CSE in Ghana cannot be different from the global objectives set by UNESCO as enshrined in its International Technical guidelines. Prior to this, in 2017, the PPAG launched in Accra the ‘knowitownitliveit’ document as a ‘sexuality education material for the youth’.

The approach to CSE education is not only school-based. In fact, Ghana adopted the integrated approach which is both community and school based. It is also worthy of note and concern that, Ghana’s guidelines reiterate Planned Parenthood’s global definition of CSE which is a “systematic approach to equip young people with the knowledge, skills , attitude and values they need to determine and enjoy their sexuality - physically, emotionally, individually and in relationships... a lifelong process that begins in childhood and progresses through adolescence and adulthood” With PPAG on-going twitter engagement of the youth on CSE, the community-based approach to CSE is actively being pursued. The discussion on CSE in this country should therefore not be limited to only the school-based approach. With respect to the community-based approach of CSE implementation, parents, traditional rulers and faith-based organizations should champion the process to preserve the rich and valuable culture we have as a country with respect to what is acceptable and normal sexual behaviors. Indeed, the International guidelines acknowledge that some sexual orientation and behaviors may be offensive to certain cultures and faiths. The International guidelines on page 35 says ‘the guidance is voluntary and non-mandatory, based on universal evidence and practice, and recognizes the diversity of different national contexts in which sexuality education is taking place’. Our view on the Ghana guidelines is that we failed to ensure that we construct the subject of sexuality and the age of introduction to suit the social, economic, culture and religious beliefs of the people of Ghana. We have also failed to empower parents, faith based organizations, traditional rulers to champion the education of our children and youth on appropriate sexual behavior.

CONTENT - An Introductory Review:
GES National guidelines on CSE is the country specific tool for its implementation in Ghana. There are eight key themes in the structure of CSE according to the UNESCO International Technical guidelines on CSE. These are;

  1. Relationships
  2. Values, Rights, Culture and Sexuality.
  3. Understanding Gender
  4. Violence and Staying Safe
  5. Skills for Health and well-being
  6. The Human body and Development
  7. Sexuality and Sexual behavior, and
  8. Sexual and Reproductive Health.

Instructions under these themes have been grouped into age brackets of 5-8 years; 9-12 years; 12-15 years; and 15-18+ years. The table below shows some selected themes and topics for ages 5-8 years for illustration in the light of the Ghana guidelines (The linkages between Ghana topics and International topics are our own)

4 Examples of Main themes. Selected topics under age 5-8 years Internationally Ghana guidelines in comparative age brackets
  1. Relationships
Different kinds of families; egs are two-parents, single parent, child-headed; guardian-headed, extended, nuclear and non-traditional families. Families and relationships in our lives (age 8 and primary 3) Roles and responsibilities as a child (age 7 and primary 2)
  1. Understanding Gender
Understand the difference between biological sex and gender; Define biological sex, gender and how they are different. Reflect on how they feel about their biological sex and gender. Being a Male or Female (age 6 and primary 1) Concept of gender (maleness and femaleness) age 8 and primary 3
  1. The Human body and Development
Know the names and functions of the body including sexual and reproductive organs. Identify and describe the basic functions of internal and external genitals Pregnancy: Explain that a sperm and egg must both join and then implant in the uterus for pregnancy to begin. Knowing about one’s body/sexual and reproductive organs (age 9 and primary 4)
  1. Sexuality and Sexual behavior, and
It is natural for people to enjoy their bodies. State different ways people show love including kissing, hugging, touching and sometimes through sexual behaviors. understanding interpersonal relationships- types and forms (age 8 and primary 3)

For each of the topics above the learning objectives are;

  • To impact knowledge
  • To ensure attitudinal changes in children and youth
  • And to demonstrate skills development in the subject areas that are taught.

(Reference: The Contents reviewed in the above table are extracts from Pages 35 to 80 of the International Technical guidelines on CSE and the Ghana National guidelines)

Although, the GES National guidelines teaches these eight themes at different levels throughout the life of the student from age 4 to 18, it does not specify the sub-topics/themes and its associated desired content to guide teachers. Teachers are requested to look for relevant materials from other sources to teach children. In the absence of a GES content-specific material for teachers, the relevant documents that are known are the ones launched by PPAG, IPPF, UNFPA, UNESCO etc. It would have been expected that due to the sensitivity/complexity of this subject, content-specific material would have been developed for teachers in line with the culture and faith of the people of Ghana to preserve the valuable family structures we have. Parents and families should be given adequate information on the scope of subject matter in the implementation of this program. This will enable parents’ guide children’s understanding, interpretation and use of CSE instructions they receive in schools and the community including social media instructions.

The major drive for implementation of CSE Internationally and in Ghana is to achieve SDG goal 5 (gender equality) using SDG goal 4 (education) as a medium. However, in our execution, we have woefully failed to take advantage of the provision in the UNESCO guidelines to tailor the topics to suit our culture and faiths as a necessary step to preserve the rich values we have as a country. We have printed and distributed teachers’ guidelines for 2019 academic year with CSE included, trained teachers on CSE and instructed teachers to look for relevant materials outside the syllabus to teach such an extremely fluid and sensitive subject, and yet the only known relevant content-specific materials out there are foreign-based and entirely unsuitable for our country. As it stands and in the Ghanaian context, the current CSE structure will over sexualize children, and destroy sexual sanctity of the future generation of the country. It does not meet basic common-sense test, is unnatural, and offends the culture, traditions and faith of the people of Ghana. In this regard the following steps must be taken:

1. Government and GES should immediately take steps to ensure that the President’s assurance on CSE is enforced.

2. There should be a comprehensive review of content specifics on sexuality education to strengthen our culture and faith and not destroy it.

3. The consultation should include faith based Organisation, parents, traditional rulers, politicians, policy makers etc.

4. All textbooks that have been published using the current CSE contents should be banned. This should be by a public directive signed by the government and Ministry of education to all concerned, including schools.

5. Community education currently ongoing with CSE contents should be halted.

6. Future school and community educational content should align with National Guidelines approved by the GES in collaboration with key Stakeholders such as Faith based groups.

7. There must be content specific monitoring especially of the community education periodically.

8. All citizens, parents and faith based groups should be on the lookout for CSE related and other unacceptable content being introduced into schools and communities or on social or other media platforms, expose same and demand immediate retraction.

Author: Advocates For Christ Ghana (A4CG) is a growing movement of professionals seeking to provide a permanent and proactive Christian voice on national issues.