MORE than four years after Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) was integrated as part of the secondary school curriculum, teachers and guidance counsellors are still expressing discomfort in talking to students about sex.
"In terms of the discomfort of teachers, it is something that has come forward, not only based on student discussions, but teachers have themselves admitted that they are challenged with some of the information," director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Sub-regional office for the English- and Dutch-Speaking Caribbean Geeta Sethi told reporters and editors during the weekly Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange, as she highlighted some of the challenges the nation faced in improving sexual and reproductive health.
The UNFPA director said issues of sexuality still remain a sensitive one for a number of Jamaicans, since it was not widely discussed in the past. There have been strong objections to the distribution of condoms to children in schools, for example, with some feeling it would encourage adolescents to become sexually promiscuous.
"In Jamaica, and in many countries, sexuality is a very sensitive issue, and so many of us -- in fact, when we were growing up -- were not accustomed to hearing adults have those sorts of discussions with young people, and so that is something that continues even today," she said
"Even guidance counsellors have been experiencing challenges in discussing the issue of sex and sexuality with young people," she added.
But despite the challenges in implementing the material, Sethi believes the Ministry of Education has been making good progress in implementing HFLE in the curriculum. Her organisation, too, has been hosting workshops that instruct teachers how to deliver the curriculum to children in an effort to translate life skills to them that would see them having more say in their sexual and reproductive rights.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) representative to Jamaica, Robert Fuderich, who was also at the Monday Exchange, believes it is important to teach children about issues relating to sexual and reproductive health, although he understands the reluctance on the part of some teachers to talk about sex to their students.
"When older teachers get something like this they think, 'hey I got trained to teach English and Math, I didn't get trained to teach people how to use a condom; that wasn't in the deal when I was going to teacher training college'," he said.
However, he believes that with teacher training institutions such as the Mico University College now offering training in HFLE, it will be a matter of time before educators start to get more comfortable accepting it as part of the curriculum.
"So now that we have younger teachers that are re-learning this as part of their training, it will be further improved in terms of the implementation," he said
UNFPA Assistant Representative Melissa McNeil-Barrett pointed out that some children who get pregnant while attending school usually find it challenging to reintegrate into the school system as they are refused access by school administrators.
It is for this reason that the Ministry of Education is currently working towards a policy that will make it easier for children to get back into the secondary school system.
"The policy now is supposed to manage and ensure that girls do get back into the school system and that there are support mechanisms in place to assist them in terms of continuing their education, as well as providing them with training, essentially on parenting and motherhood," she said.