08.02.2012 02:25 Age: 2 yrs
Category: News

Talking sexuality education raises teachers in China’s confidence

Sexuality education is now introduced to three teacher training universities in China benefitting over 900 teacher students, thanks to a UNESCO-supported project.

China is no different from many other countries where sexuality education is a controversial topic, and/or taboo. It is very common in China for parents and teachers to hesitate or not be willing to educate in the name of cultural beliefs, habits or moral values.

However, a rise in sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies has forced the country to consider sexuality education in schools. According to the Ministry of Health, China has an estimated number of 740,000 people infected with HIV. Seventy-five per cent of new infections in 2009 were transmitted through sexual contact.

China has a population of 161 million aged 15 to 24. They are increasingly vulnerable to HIV due to their openness to sex and lack of HIV prevention knowledge and skills.

A national survey by China National Women and Children’s Working Committee and UNFPA showed that 60 per cent of the unmarried youth were open to pre-marital sex, while 22.4 per cent indicated that they were sexually active. Over half of them did not use any contraceptives for their first sexuality expererience. Only 14.4 per cent of them reported correct knowledge about HIV prevention. This situation calls for effective HIV and sexuality education for young people in China.

At first we were a bit shy when male and female students sat down together to discuss all kinds of issues related to sexuality,” said Gao Xi, a student from Beijing Normal University, majoring in teacher education.

But gradually we enjoyed the discussion, because it enabled us to see different perspectives and can help us to understand and better communicate with each other.”

Based on the evaluation conducted by Beijing Normal University over the two school semesters, more than 90 per cent of students rated the sexuality education course as very useful to them, and their knowledge, attitudes and practice have improved significantly as compared to the control group.

All topics in the course were well received by the students, and topics such as love and marriage, contraception and abortion, sexual behavior, and sexual and reproductive health care were all discussed. According to the evaluation, the students enjoyed the participatory teaching methods, which allowed them to reflect, explore and exchange ideas regarding personal values and beliefs about sexual and reproductive health issues.

Teacher student Ms. Gao said that attending the course was an eye-opener for her personally and extremely useful for her future teaching career as well.

The classroom-based sexuality education course through the UNESCO-supported project was offered as an elective course of 28 to 36 class hours, with 2 to 3 credits in three pilot universities, Beijing Normal University, Henan Normal University and Yunnan Normal University.

Over the past two years in 2010 and 2011, UNESCO has supported the adaptation of the International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education, in collaboration with three teacher training universities recommended by the Ministry of Education.

Min Bista, Education Specialist of the UNESCO Beijing office, highlighted the importance that UNESCO attaches to sexuality education as a strategy to deepen education response to HIV and AIDS.

Young people have the right to quality sexuality education, and effective sexuality education can help reduce the risk of STIs [sexually transmitted infections], including HIV, by encouraging lower risk behavior, such as delaying sexual debut, avoiding sex with multiple partners, and consistently and correctly using condoms,” said Mr. Bista.

The project also resulted in the development of teaching and learning materials including a Student’s Reader, a Teacher’s Guide and an Activity Book, as well as an adapted version of the International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education that lays out age-appropriate learning objectives under a variety of topics and key concepts suggested by the Guidance.

The International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education, published in 2009 by UNESCO together with UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO, is a major document that provides a basic framework of topics and learning objectives for sexuality education, underlined by the principles of human rights and gender equality.

The purpose of sexuality education, as articulated in the Guidance, is to enable children and young people to make responsible choices in their social and sexual relationships by equipping them with accurate knowledge, attitudes and skills in relation to sexuality.

Prof. Liu Wenli from Beijing Normal University, who was the chief coordinator for the implementation of the project, played the most important role in the situational analysis and development of materials by mobilizing relevant national expertise and resources.

“The International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education by UNESCO provided a really good guidance to us in developing the learning topics and objectives,” said Ms.Liu.

We firstly conducted a situational analysis on relevant policies and programmes, as well as a student needs assessment through a sample survey of nearly 2000 students at the beginning of the project, which provided us with evidence for the designing of the course materials.”

Feedbacks from students were collected throughout the project period on the contents of the materials as well as the delivery methods for each session, which helped us to continuously improve the contents and delivery of the course to ensure its relevance,” she said.

Recently in January 2012, teacher educators from Beijing, Henan and Yunnan gathered together at a two-day workshop in Beijing to celebrate the success of this UNESCO-supported project “Deepening Education Response to HIV & AIDS by Adapting and Integrating International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education (ITGSE) into Pre-service Teacher Education in China”.

Present at the workshop were a total of 20 leaders and teachers from the three pilot universities who participated in the project. Some student representatives from Beijing Normal University also attended the workshop.

At the workshop, each participating university presented their achievements. All three universities agreed that the most sustainable result of the project is the formation of a capable team of teachers, with a diverse academic background, who are dedicated to sexuality education.

Through this project we increased our sense of responsibility and we feel that our university should and could play a bigger role in bringing up the level of sexuality education in Henan province,” said Mr Zhou Shegang, a teacher from Henan Normal University.

Leaders from the three universities expressed their commitment to support teachers in continuing with the legacy of the pilot project and scale up their teaching and research activities in this field.

In response to the participants’ request to further upgrade their knowledge on sexuality education, Prof. Pan Suiming from Sexual Sociology Research Institute of Renmin University, who is the most renowned sex sociologist in China, was invited to present his latest research findings on sexuality of young people in China and to share his observations and perspectives about sexuality education.

Sexuality education is not a need but a right,” said Mr Suiming . He suggested that sexuality education should be made compulsory and gender should be integrated into sexuality education, to give due recognition to diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity.

Prof. Yu Xiaoming from Institute of Child and Adolescent Health of Peking University presented an evidence-based research that she conducted on the impact of interventions on sexual and reproductive health over the past 30 years in China, which helped the workshop participants realise the importance of properly documenting evidence while they conduct experimental teaching and researching activities.

All participants expressed great satisfaction with what they have gained from the project and the workshop. They suggested that UNESCO should continue engaging teacher training institutions in relevant research and experimental activities to accumulate academic expertise, and eventually help to establish sexuality education as an independent discipline for teacher education in China.

In responding to this suggestion, UNESCO is committed to working with teacher training institutions for further integration of sexuality education into pre-service teacher education. UNESCO Beijing office has prepared a two-year plan, including using the the sexuality education review and assessment tool developed by UNESCO to further identify best practices and gaps in sexuality education in China.

Despite these policies to enable sexuality education to be practiced in schools, there is a lack of awareness and implementation of these polices.

UNESCO’s support to education of teachers on sexuality education is strategically important to preventing HIV among young people by improving their knowledge, attitudes and skills in relation to all issues around sexuality.

Teachers are at the heart of all educational development and reform. Sexuality education will provide the pre-service teachers with the right attitude, knowledge and skills about sexuality education, which will generate a rippling effect when they themselves become teachers to benefit more students.

This will go a long way in improving the health and wellbeing of all human kind.

National laws and policies in China that highlight the importance of sexual and reproductive health education for young people

  • The Population and Family Planning Law states that “schools should conduct age-appropriate physical health, puberty and sexual health education”.
  • The Primary and Middle School Health Education Guidelines announced by the Ministry of Education in 2008 stipulates that each school should provide 6-7 hours of health education, in which puberty and human development shall be included.
  • The Child Development Guidelines (2011-2020) newly promulgated by the State Council clearly states that “Sexual and reproductive health education should be included in compulsory education”.
  • Capacity of teachers in conducting sexuality education has been proposed as one criterion in the Professional Standard of Primary Teachers which is undergoing consultation.
  • Despite these policies to enable sexuality education to be practiced in schools, there is a lack of awareness and implementation of these polices.


By Li Hongyan, UNESCO Office in Beijing (h.li@unesco.org)


Related Links:

Sexuality Education in China: A Way Forward

UNESCO office in Beijing