Meaningful consultation and a move to the digital space are two important next steps for New Zealand’s sexuality education.
Vice President of Education for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America Dr Leslie Kantor has been in the country this month to discuss sexuality education. She said while New Zealand had a national curriculum, community consultation was lacking.
“Often it’s done as more of a ‘check box’ exercise. Schools need to be having purposeful, meaningful conversations with a wide range of voices. Don’t be afraid of input.”
Traditionally sexual education was taught in schools as “that’s where the kids are”, she said.
“Now they’re online 24/7 it seems. If we can put useful information on those devices, and in that digital space, we are reaching young people in an important way.”
The rise of social media had given people a space to tell their stories, which was both good and bad.
Dr Kantor said social media had helped spark a worldwide conversation about consent.
“That conversation has been started many times before, but it’s starting to click now.”
However, social media also meant the likes of ‘fake news’ had spread to sexuality education.
“Kids get worried about things that don’t exist, especially with things on social media. One myth is ‘oh you can tell what sort of person has an STI.’ Absolutely no. No, you can’t.”
In an ideal world children would be learning about sex and relationships from parents, schools, religious institutions and the digital space, she said.
“Good comprehensive sex education that starts at a young age includes everything that people need at a later date.”
Dr Kantor said sexuality education was more than just sex and relationships.
“From a very, very young age we are teaching communication, body language, relating to others. We need to be talking about sexual orientation, gender identity, consent.”
Self worth, self respect, and body confidence were all part of a holistic sexuality education.
She was impressed with New Zealand’s nationwide curriculum.
“In America, there is no national requirement. Various states might have something but then each community has a different curriculum.”
Teachers should not be afraid to ask for help if they felt overwhelmed or underskilled, Dr Kantor said.
“It’d be like asking me to go teach maths. I’m not trained in it, I’d rush it and it would be awkward. Ask for help. Take courses and practice teaching with your peers. It’s all learnable.”
She said both parents and teachers needed to remember sexuality education was a life-long conversation.
“It’s too late to teach it when someone is at university. Start now. Start at five years old, even earlier. Build on it and keep going.”
Educators should not panic if lessons did not go as planned.
“The kids are there day after day. If you sent the wrong message, there’s time to change it. You can always go back to something.”