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Addressing the difficulties of teaching sensitive subjects in schools

With the alarming numbers of new infections of HIV among 15- to 24-year-olds, there is increasing attention on how to reach young people with messages on risky behaviours and empowerment skills. Life skills education (LSE) courses have been designed for use in schools in the region as one approach that UNICEF promotes. But various evaluations have indicated a lack of attention in some of the courses on the actual risky behaviours that they are designed to focus on.

Recognizing that introducing such ‘sensitive’ topics in schools remains a continuing challenge, the UNICEF Regional Office arranged a workshop session for all its country education officers to discuss the merits of LSE courses to prevent risky behaviours among children and young people.

In the key presentation, the UNICEF Regional Adviser on HIV and AIDS, Wing-Sie Cheng, highlighted two university study findings that endorse (Cornell University studies on LSE in drug-use prevention) and question the effectiveness of life skills education (London University research). She also presented findings from a 2005 meta evaluation of 83 programmes around the world conducted by Family Health International, which underscored LSE effectiveness in enhancing safe-sex practices.

Cheng concluded that to be effective, LSE needs to focus on reducing risk behaviours. She also noted that a shortcoming of LSE in practice, despite its popularity, is the poor quality of teaching and well-designed curriculum, especially in developing countries. In the following discussion, workshop participants considered ways to address the difficulty for educators to provide knowledge that can augment children’s resilience to negative social and behavioural influences.





Additional reading

1. Botvin, Gilbert J. and Griffin, Kenneth, W. "Life skills training: Empirical findings and future directions." The Journal of Primary Prevention, 25 (2), October 2004: 211-232.

2. Boler, Tania and Aggleton, Peter. Life skills-based education for HIV prevention: A critical analysis. Save the Children UK and ActionAid International. 2005.


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