Surpassing a number of social taboos, awareness on sexual and reproductive health issues, especially the prevention of HIV and AIDS, is finally gaining steam in Pakistan’s academic curriculum for teenagers. An orientation session on the topic, bringing together the heads of notable schools from the city, under the Rutgers WPF school4life initiative was held at Kuch Khaas on Monday by their local partner Bedari, a women and children’s welfare group.
Rutgers WPF Programme Manager Ayesha Ali assured the schools heads that despite initial hesitance by parents and faculty, the project is making various positive changes in local communities by fostering confidence, dispelling stigmas and myths, and spreading awareness and understanding among children about their rights.
Ali also noted that the project had to be tailored to be more accessible and acceptable to participating schools and students’ parents, which is why it works under the name of schools4life instead of dance4life. “Parents and teachers were sceptical agreeing to participate in a programme called dance4life because they assumed it focused solely on dance, school 4 life makes the programme seem more relevant,” said Ali.
Teacher training and sensitisation is an integral part of the programme. Segregated training sessions take place when speaking about reproductive and sexual aspects to ensure comfort, and children’s handbooks on the subjects are different for boys and girls. “However true physical education is one that teaches children of anatomy regardless of sex,” Ali said.
She also spoke of how participating teachers were sometimes subjected to ridicule by peers who didn’t approve of the curriculum, which further illustrates the immense need to raise awareness and destigmatise reproductive and sexual health.
Due to the large economic disparity in Pakistan, the results vary between public and private schools. According to Bedari Executive Director Saleem Malik, parents of public school students showed less interest in their children’s involvement in the project, resulting in their missing events and not reading the curriculum.
Unfortunately, as public school students tend to be from lower-income families, they are at an increased risk of HIV and AIDS, which redoubles the importance of educating parents through their children, which is part of school4life’s goal.
Participating schools included Beaconhouse, ICAS, Montessori, ISSC and OPF College. Fizza Hassan from ICAS said the innovative approach is appreciated by faculty, students and parents, who benefit from the critical and ethical thinking it develops.
School4life is a part of the dance4life project, which aims to create one million active participating youth by 2014 as a last urgent call to world leaders to keep their promises on the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).
In Pakistan, the project focuses on addition to working for sustainable development promoting sexual and reproductive health. The programme is already active in Multan, Lahore and Quetta working with public and private schools.
With additional input from Vaqas Asghar
Published In The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2012.