In the world’s largest Muslim population, most parents support sexual health education in schools
Schools play an important role in ensuring that young people receive a comprehensive education on relationships and sexual health.
Based on three decades of research around the world, we know that school education is very effective. It helps young people grow into happy, healthy adults and reduces their risk of harm.
Sadly, many schools around the world seem to be concerned about how parents will react if they teach sexual health classes. They end up hesitating to tackle important topics that can truly support the personal and social development of their students.
It turns out that these fears are wrong.
Parents around the world are actually very supportive of sexual health education. Even parents from highly religious countries like Malaysia, Oman, Iran and Bangladesh are happy that this type of education is taught by schools.
Sadly, there has been little research in this area across Indonesia – the world’s largest predominantly Muslim country. Therefore, our team set out to see what Indonesian parents really feel towards school-based sexual health education.
We found that 98.4% of Indonesian parents – 38.2% men, 61.4% women and 0.4% others – supported the provision of sexual health education in schools, and 80% even felt that this type of education should start in primary school.
Our sample consisted of very religious individuals (97.6%), with almost 40% of them identifying as Muslims, and provided a fair insight into the total population of Indonesia.
Although our work is based on convenience sampling and may not reflect exactly how all parents in Indonesia feel, our preliminary results strongly challenge the hypothesis that Indonesian parents are barriers to providing sexual health education in school settings.
Read more: How to teach sex education in Indonesia: academics are stepping in
Changing tides in a difficult problem
For example, according to a Demographic and Health Survey 2017 by the National Population and Family Planning Council (BKKBN) which surveyed people aged 15 to 24, only 12% of women and 6% of men know where to find information on reproductive health.
This increases their chances of engaging in risky sexual behaviors, which puts them at high risk of exposure to HIV, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), unplanned pregnancies, unsafe abortions, child marriage and to sexual violence.
Unfortunately, the teaching of sexual health in Indonesian schools is limited and very varied. Its inclusion in schools has also been strongly disputed, for both cultural and political reasons, for many years.
Parents in our survey, however, indicated that the lessons about personal safety (preventing child sexual abuse, coercion or sexual assault), STIs, and decision-making in sexual relationships were extremely important. They also wanted certain biological topics such as puberty, reproduction and safer sex practices to be covered by schools.
These are all essential topics for young people to learn.
However, we need to be careful that schools do not simply use fear-based messages to focus on issues such as illness, unplanned pregnancies and violence.
Ideally, we need our school education to take a more positive outlook and help young Indonesians develop important social, emotional and cognitive skills so that they can gain a sense of well-being in relation to their body, their relationships and their sexuality.
Parents in our survey were even very supportive of their child’s learning about sexual pleasure. However, of all the sexual health topics they were asked to review, this topic was rated the least important.
This tells us that we need to do more to educate parents and schools about the importance of discussing sexual health in a positive way and not just focusing on bodies, bugs and babies.
What Indonesian schools can do differently
Despite the overwhelming support of parents in our survey, almost a quarter were unsure whether their child had received some form of sexual health education at their current school.
This means that schools have to work hard to keep their parents informed about this type of education so that schools and families can work in partnership.
For those parents who were familiar with their school’s programs, most rated the quality of this education as fair to very good. However, 6% said the school’s efforts were poor.
Engagement with parents is the foundation of a new initiative which is currently being rolled out to all schools in England, for example. Relationships and sexuality education has recently become compulsory in all public, independent and denominational schools. Every school in the United Kingdom (UK) is required to write a policy that clearly describes how it will approach matters related to relationships and sexual health, and it should consult widely with parents when drafting these documents.
Read more: Relationships and sex education are now compulsory in English schools – Australia should do the same
We also know that a school-wide approach relationships and sexual health education is the best role model.
This means that comprehensive classroom instruction – provided by well-trained and enthusiastic teachers – is supported by meaningful engagement with families and local health groups. Like the model in England, this also includes genuine consultation with conservative parents and religious leaders.
In addition, a school-wide approach means that administrative staff and the wider school environment value sexual health education and help strengthen important sexual health practices in the school. whole school community.
Every student in Indonesia should have access to age-appropriate education on contemporary relationships and sexual health, delivered by committed and well-supported teachers. Students should then be able to step outside of their classroom and see these important life lessons about respect, communication and the importance of sexual well-being discussed and recognized in the playground, at school events and in all other areas of their school.
We hope that the results of our survey will make it clear to schools that Indonesian parents support their child’s sexual health relationships and education.
We hope it will inspire schools to expand their offering, adhere to international and evidence-based guidelines, and provide truly comprehensive school-based sex education across Indonesia.
Sanyulandy Leowalu is the principal investigator of the above main study, and assisted in the writing of this article.