Comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) for adolescents is often lacking and the consequences can be quite severe including unplanned pregnancy and dropping out of school. Not all sex education is created equal. CSE is a curriculum-based process for teaching about sex and relationships which goes beyond just learning about the physical aspects of sexuality and includes the cognitive, emotional and social aspects of sexuality. In the past in Vietnam, the concept of CSE was not well known and sex education was not implemented consistently in schools. There was no official guideline or curriculum for teachers to follow and many teachers complained that “There is a lack of documents we can reference for our lessons, often we feel like we are swimming in the internet to find educational materials.” Additional challenges faced by adolescents in Vietnam include gender inequalities rooted deeply in traditional practices, and judgement and stigma towards adolescents and unmarried individuals seeking reproductive health information or services. Early marriage1 also known commonly as child marriage continues to be an issue, especially in ethnic minority communities in remote and mountainous regions. Early marriage, pregnancy and childbirth can lead to negative health outcomes for the mother and baby in addition to forcing girls out of school and limiting their economic opportunities.
CSE has been proven to be an effective method to help adolescents learn about reproductive health, and related topics and skills, empower them to make informed decisions about sex and relationships, and lead happy, healthy and productive lives. The government of Vietnam has recognized the benefits of CSE and prioritized improving the quality of sex education and standardizing reproductive health education for adolescents. The Ministry of Health (MOH) collaborated with HealthBridge Foundation of Canada to develop a new national CSE curriculum and a technical guideline for teachers to be used throughout the country. The curriculum was developed in consultation with ethnic minority teachers and piloted with ethnic minority adolescents to ensure that the contents were culturally sensitive and appropriate for all. The technical guideline is a resource for teachers on planning and conducting sessions for their students while the curriculum covers key topics including gender, puberty, friendship and love, safe sex and consent, sexually transmitted infections, child marriage, and child sexual abuse. The new national CSE curriculum and guideline are the first of their kind in Vietnam, which is a big achievement. These materials are already available on the MOH website and copies have been shared with all 64 provinces across Vietnam.
As part of HealthBridge’s “Improving reproductive health and preventing child marriage” project in Son La province of Vietnam, 40 teachers were trained from target schools on the contents of the new curriculum and methods for implementing participatory lessons for their students. Mr. Long, a teacher at Chieng Bom secondary school in Thuan Chau shared that,
“I used the Technical Guide to implement reproductive health education sessions with my students, it is useful to me. I also received other tools like the flip chart on adolescent reproductive health (ARH), it is good too”.
The new CSE sessions in schools are engaging and student-led so the learning process is participatory rather than just a one-way flow of information. At a recent CSE education event at the Son La Ethnic Minority Boarding School, students performed plays for their peers about relationships, the negative consequences of child marriage and early childbearing, and sexually transmitted infections. Students were very creative, using costumes and humour to convey key messages and lessons. The sessions include lots of cheering and laughter from their peers. While talking to Mr. Dung, vice principal of the school, about the CSE education event he shared that,
“We are a boarding school, 100% students are from ethnic minority groups, they live in the school, that is why it is critical for us to educate students about ARH. I find the event useful for teachers as well, because some teachers still find it difficult to communicate with students about sexuality and reproductive health topics”.
During the next two years of the project, over 100 CSE sessions will be delivered in the project target schools including middle schools and high schools. The sessions implemented so far have been appreciated greatly by students. Following a recent session, Lò Thị Nguyệt, a female student in grade 8 at Tông Cọ secondary school in Thuan Chuan district, in Son La province said,
“I really enjoyed the sexual education session, I learned that my body belongs to me, and some ways to get out of risks of sexual abuse, and our teacher organized games for us to both play and learn about reproductive knowledge”
Read more about the project Improving reproductive health and preventing child marriage in Nepal and Vietnam.
1 Early marriage is considered a marriage where one or both partner(s) have not reached the minimum legal age for marriage, which is 18 years for girls and 20 years for boys in Vietnam (Art. 8(1) of the Law on Marriage and Family).