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More support needed for teachers of sexuality education

More support needed for teachers of sexuality education

March 10, 2015

Extensive professional development is urgently needed for teachers of sexuality education, University of Canterbury education experts say.

Lecturer Tracy Clelland, Associate Professor Penni Cushman and Dr Eva Brown-Hadjukova say support for teachers is needed immediately if they are to have the knowledge and skills to ensure students develop respectful attitudes and positive relationships.

New sexuality guidelines for schools are to be released shortly by the Ministry of Education. The University of Canterbury researchers have been investigating knowledge and attitudes of students enrolled in a new sexuality education course of the Bachelor of Health Science.

Associate Professor Cushman says that students surveyed, before the course started, have expressed concerns about compulsory sexuality education in schools, especially for young children. The students say they were not able to fully articulate the difference between sex education and sexuality education.

Many of the university students felt they did not have enough adequate sexuality education at school unless they had opted to take senior NCEA Health, which is only available at some schools.

“They expressed concern for the lack of knowledge and skills that some teachers have in this area. A significant change in level of knowledge and attitudes towards sexuality was apparent among the students we surveyed. The students' understanding of sexuality shifted from a narrow biomedical perspective towards a more holistic understanding of sexuality that included the emotional, social, intellectual and ethical aspects of sexuality in addition to the physical.

“Every student we surveyed mentioned the need for compulsory sexuality education for years 1 to 13 school students. They agreed that the earlier students could learn how to build personal identity and self-worth, develop healthy relationships, manage feelings and emotions, and care for their bodies, the more likely young people will be to make decisions that have a positive impact on their own and others’ wellbeing.

“Our research data indicated that students gained a greater awareness of current sexuality issues. Issues highlighted by the students included the negative effects of pornography on relationships, the lack of effective sexuality education in schools, gender inequities, early sexualisation, gender stereotyping, early onset of puberty, and the negative influence of media on body image.

“Students told us some parents do not feel comfortable talking to their children about sexuality and young people may be more likely to be influenced by sources such as peers, the media or friends.

Research data indicated that over the semester long course students' attitudes became more accepting and respectful of diversity. This suggests we can develop positive attitudes towards our own and others’ sexuality through education and that it is vital that all sexuality education teachers are given extensive professional development,’’ Associate Professor Cushman says.


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