Saturday, September 22, 2018
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Commentary

Answering the call for adolescent RH education

Inspired by the debate on reproductive health (RH), it is worthy to look into RH efforts and the effects they may have on our youth in the classroom. After all, today’s Filipino youth will be tomorrow’s future and it is prudent to assess whether or not they are well equipped to lead our nation toward achieving better health outcomes.

Recently, I completed a qualitative study, coupled with a comparative report, to make precisely this type of assessment.

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The Department of Education has completed a two-year pilot program administering Adolescent Reproductive Health (ARH) modules in selected schools in 31 municipalities across the country from Grade 5 to fourth year high school. The pilot project commenced in 2009 and was funded by the UN Population Fund.

I visited two high schools in Zambales and held focus group discussions (FGD) with teachers, parents and students of the school community. The data from these discussions were triangulated to assess the communities’ expectations and priorities from such a curriculum and to identify the barriers that prevent the attainment of comprehensive ARH education goals.

In terms of RH issues, the teachers interviewed emphasized the importance of values with reference to sexual behavior, early pregnancy prevention, protection against disease, and increasing the knowledge of students on reproductive biology, in that order.

The parents who participated in the study prioritized values regarding engagement in sexual acts and concerns about their children’s curiosity about the “wrong things.”

Students, on the other hand, felt the need for answers to their many lingering concerns about protection and biology to correct such misinformation such as “Is it true that you can get pregnant from kissing?” and “My friend has HIV. I heard if she drinks Safeguard (soap), she will be healed.”

Understanding the views of teachers, parents and students will help further ARH efforts in addressing the needs of the community for comprehensive education about better health.

The barriers in the way of achieving ARH goals were also analyzed.

Teachers claimed they lacked the necessary resources in order to effectively teach ARH topics and the application of practical methods such as natural and artificial family planning.

Parents almost unanimously agreed that they struggled with communicating reproductive health issues with their children to the extent that they could not even say the words “tutoy” or “ari”, let alone discuss the pubescent changes their children were undergoing.

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Students felt that their biggest challenges lay in barriers to communicating with elders and in their knowledge of reproductive biology. In rationalizing the perceived barrier with a teacher or parent, one child concluded, “They just get mad, so I just don’t ask.”

The issues surrounding these barriers are profound. Teachers are spending their own funds to improve the curriculum assigned to them. Students resort to inaccurate sources such as Facebook, TV shows and their barkada to find answers to their ARH questions. A lack of communication exists between parent and child about these vital topics since both parties are uncomfortable discussing or raising the topic with each other.

Some parents claimed that “18 years old is when they should know those things” or “they’ll know when they get married.” The issue of “adultism” or casting the youth as categorically less able and less intelligent than adults is prevalent both in school and in the home. How can we expect our youth to become capable and upright citizens if we withhold from them the knowledge they need to become responsible adults?

A report was also prepared comparing the PopDevEd curriculum developed by the University of San Carlos-Office of Population Studies with the DepEd’s ARH modules for public schools.

Found to be more comprehensive in terms of balance between theoretical and practical knowledge, the PopDevEd curriculum clearly structures each lesson around the connection between population, development, human sexuality and responsible parenthood. Encompassing such a continuum that is in line with Catholic teachings for elementary, secondary and college modules makes this curriculum extremely adaptable to many communities. In fact, it is so adaptable that many DepEd schools that were not included in the pilot project are requesting for the Catholic curriculum and materials for use this school year.

It is evident from the data in this study that an increase in training for both teachers and parents would improve knowledge and communication of a difficult topic. Revising the fear-based DepEd curriculum and the tools referred to there would begin to remedy the unmet needs of the students. Tapping available resources to supplement the curriculum by partnering with health centers and making use of HIV preventive education tools would also fill the gaps.

The support for comprehensive ARH education prevails in the local communities. However, it is the responsibility of the decision-makers in the DepEd to answer their call.

Justine Ang Fonte (jaf2189@columbia.edu) is a visiting researcher at the Asian Institute of Management and graduate student of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York City. She holds a master’s in Education and was a public school teacher in the United States. To read the complete findings of her study and research, see “AIM’s Development-At-Work” series (cdm.aim.edu). The views expressed are the author’s only and represent no organization.

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