A study has established that Ghana’s Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) Education programme is relatively advanced compared to other countries in the region.
It noted, however, that despite the strong support for the provision of SRH in schools, the programmes are not providing the full range of information that adolescents need.
Conducted by the US-based Guttmacher Institute and the University of Cape Coast, the study, titled “From Paper to Practice: Sexual and Reproductive Health Education Policies and Their Implementation in Ghana,” indicated that the Ghana government was committed to SRH education.
This, it said, was reflected in the multiple policies, the national curricula and co-curricular programmes.
Presenting the findings of the study at a dissemination meeting in Accra recently, Prof. Kofi Awusabo-Asare of the University of Cape Coast, who was one of the researchers, said the study was to assess how SRH Education policies and curricula are implemented in four countries: Ghana, Kenya, Peru and Guatemala.
It was funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.
In Ghana, the study was conducted in the Brong Ahafo, Greater Accra and Northern regions.
Prof. Awusabo-Asare said it involved the review of policies and curricula, in-depth interviews with key informants and surveys of secondary school heads, teachers and students in forms two and three, aged 15 to 17.
Sexual and Reproductive Health Education is one component in a multifaceted approach to address the sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescents, and prepare them to lead safe and fulfilling sexual and reproductive lives.
It has been established that SRH education programmes that focus on human rights, gender equality and empowerment, and that encourage active participation, can improve knowledge and self-confidence, positively change attitudes and gender norms, strengthen decision-making, communication skills and self-efficacy and increase contraceptive use among sexually active adolescents
In Ghana, more than one in four 15 to 19-year-old adolescent females and one in five males have had sex. Around one-tenth had sex before age 15.
Only one-third of unmarried sexually active adolescents are currently using contraception, and more than 60 per cent of them have an unmet need for family planning.
According to Prof. Awusabo-Asare, virtually all the students interviewed reported that they wanted the SRH education, adding that their lessons on sexual and reproductive health were beneficial.
Furthermore, the school heads, teachers and key informants all agreed that including SRH education in school curricula is important, Prof. Awusabo-Asare stated.
He indicated that the study also showed that many critical and sensitive topics on SRH are covered.
It was further realised during the study that several policies support the provision of SRH education, and have led to its inclusion in primary, junior and high school curricula.
Basic topics related to SRH education are introduced in the fourth year of primary school and in senior high school the topics are integrated into two core subjects: Social Studies and Integrated Science.
What’s happening in schools?
Prof. Awusabo-Asare said reviews of curricula, however, reveal a heavy focus on abstinence; exclusion of information on healthy sexual behaviours and negative tone to teaching.
Students were more likely to learn about topics related to physiology compared with other categories.
He emphasised that students want practical skills related to contraceptive use, but do not get this information in school.
Furthermore, teachers sometimes convey contradictory messages and inadequate information to students in SRH classes, Prof. Awusabo-Asare indicated.
In addition, teachers lack resources and materials in teaching SRH education.
Teachers, he said, continued to struggle with teaching sensitive topics, and there were few resources available to help them.
The orientation to teaching is also fear-based and adolescent sexuality is cast in a negative light.
Coordinated efforts needed
Prof. Awusabo-Asare stressed the need for the country to expand comprehensive and rights-based sexual and reproductive health education and integrate more critical and sensitive topics into core subjects.
Both pre-service and in-service training for teachers was also needed as well as investment in teaching materials and resources to improve teaching, he said.
Melissa Stillman, a researcher from Guttmacher, noted that “abstinence-only education programmes have shown little evidence of improving adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health outcomes.”
“The adolescents surveyed report that they need practical information about how to prevent STIs, and pregnancy and how to communicate and negotiate within relationships,” she added.