Sex education falling short, Unicef finds
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Sex education falling short, Unicef finds

Teens left without critical sexuality skills

High school students are taught about condoms in a class using cucumbers. A new Unicef report raps sex education in secondary schools. (Screen grab from Bangkok Post video)
High school students are taught about condoms in a class using cucumbers. A new Unicef report raps sex education in secondary schools. (Screen grab from Bangkok Post video)

Sex education at secondary level fails to equip students with the skills they need to address issues like HIV/Aids, teenage pregnancies and gender rights due to poor teacher training and not enough classes, claims a Unicef-supported study released Wednesday.

The recent study on the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) programme found important topics such as sexual rights, gender equality and diversity, and respect for the rights of others are often neglected. This leaves many Thai students with misguided attitudes about gender roles, sexual rights and domestic violence, it showed.

Teaching too often focuses on delivering information rather than building critical thinking, communication and negotiation skills, all of which are crucial for young people to manage their sexuality and their sexual lives, the study said.

Called the "Thailand Review of the Implementation of Comprehensive Sexuality Education," the study collected data from 8,837 students and 692 teachers from 398 secondary and vocational schools nationwide from September 2015 to March 2016.

The study looked into how CSE is taught in schools across Thailand, identifying both successes and areas in need of improvement. It was conducted by the Centre for Health Policy Studies at Mahidol University with support from Unicef. The Office of the Basic Education Commission, the Office of the Vocational Education Commission, UNFPA and Unesco were partners.

"The fact that almost every school in Thailand is implementing the Comprehensive Sexuality Education programme is great news," said Valerie Taton, Unicef Thailand deputy representative.

"At the same time, the fact that so many students are still left without critical skills to help them navigate their sexuality and sexual lives, is deeply worrying," she said.

"We know that to reduce the rate of adolescent pregnancy in Thailand, as well as the high rates of sexually transmitted diseases among young people, we need to equip them with these important skills, and with the self-awareness and self-confidence to make good decisions about their sexuality and sexual lives.''

According to the report, 41% of male vocational school students in Thailand believe that a husband has the right to physically assault his wife if she is unfaithful, indicating problematic attitudes on gender, sexuality and domestic violence.

Nearly half of male secondary school students in grades 7 to 9 believe same-sex relations are wrong. Moreover, most students could not answer questions about the menstrual cycle, while many female respondents said emergency contraceptive pills were their main way of avoiding pregnancy and many boys indicated an unwillingness to use condoms.

Only 54% of female students in secondary schools said they were confident they could insist their partner use a condom all the time and have that request respected.

The study quoted a review of sex education programmes in various countries which found 80% of those that incorporated teaching about sexual rights, gender and violence helped reduce unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Only 17% of the programmes that did not include these subjects managed to do the same.

Unicef's chief of education, Hugh Delaney, said nearly every school in Thailand was delivering the CSE in a non-comprehensive manner, with a too-narrow focus on biology, abstinence before marriage, or how to avoid unwanted pregnancy.

He also noted that more than half of teachers did not receive any specific training on how to teach CSE.

He called for improved training across the board, more classroom time, and inclusion of all topics on the CSE curriculum to promote critical thinking about gender roles.

Thailand has one of the highest teen birth rates in Asean.

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