Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Headlines, Health, Population

HEALTH-VIETNAM: Sex Education Falls Short of Mark, Say Students

Tran Dinh Thanh Lam

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam, Dec 19 2002 (IPS) - Poor teacher training and a high incidence of teenage pregnancies and abortions are prompting experts and educators to back reforms in the way Vietnam teaches its youth about sexual and reproductive matters.

“I’ve got a boyfriend in the same class. At first we only hugged and kissed but gradually we wanted to know more, and finally I found myself pregnant,” 15-year-old Nguyen Thi Ly (not her real name) said at the delivery room of the Tu Du Obstetrics Hospital here in this southern Vietnamese city.

Ly was one of 80 pregnant young women who went to Tu Du this year, a figure that health officials here find quite high.

“It was a real shock for my parents (when they found out I was pregnant). They always think of me as a child and have never accepted that I have grown up,” added Ly.

But she did go on to have a baby, unlike others who opt for abortions, of which there are about 1 million per year — 30 percent of them by on unmarried females, according to reports from the ‘Vietnam Investment Review’. Between 25 to 30 percent of pregnancies in Vietnam occur among women under the age of 18.

The trend of pregnancies and abortions is a symptom of teenagers’ ignorance of sexual matters, says experts.

“Sexual health care among adolescents today is not a cause for great optimism,” said Pham Song, chairman of the Vietnam Family Planning Association.

Health experts estimate that in capital Hanoi, 15 percent of teenagers aged 15 to 19 have experienced sex before marriage. In Ho Chi Minh City the rate is 2.5 percent. More surprisingly, of those teenagers who are sexually active, only 36.8 percent have a grasp of basic contraception methods.

During the National Conference on Adolescent Sexual Health Education in Hanoi last month, delegates revealed that adolescents today are having sex nearly a year earlier than they did during the 1970s.

“We are curious about sex but we don’t have anybody to discuss it with,” confessed Ly. Like other teenagers, Ly would have preferred to have older, more experienced people to talk to, but did not know how to reach out to them.

She said that sex education is part of the secondary school curriculum, but her teachers rarely touches on matters dealing with sexual relationships, birth control, condoms, abortion, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) — topics that teenagers are curious about and need information on.

Sex education was first introduced as part of the curriculum on population and family planning subjects in the 1980s. However, the subject was heavily slanted toward demography rather than reproductive health, and was only offered to students 15 to 18 years of age.

“Because many teachers still find it uneasy to speak about sex with school students, sex education has yet to be allotted separate subject status,” said Professor Dang Quoc Bao, deputy head of the Population and Family Planning Education Department at the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET).

As a result, “(sex education) still falls beneath the joint mantles of morality, geography and biology,” he said.

“Our teacher talked about sex in a very dry way, and many of the boys used it as a way to tease the girls. Most people in class don’t really understand it,” said Mai Thi Tuyet, a secondary school student in Thai Binh province.

Thai Binh and Quang Ninh are two northern provinces that were surveyed by the Sociology Institute of Vietnam from 2000 to 2001 about the impact of sex education.

Researchers found that sex education in local schools is still inadequate. Many teachers lack the proper communication skills to field questions about teenage sex in a classroom situation.

The survey found that students aged between 17 and 19 have only the vaguest notions about how to prevent pregnancy, avoid STDs and HIV/AIDS.

According to the Joint U.N. Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) this year, the HIV prevalence rate in Vietnam for people aged between 15 to 49 is 0.3 percent, way below 1.8 percent for Thailand or 2.7 for Cambodia.

The HIV prevalence rate in Vietnamese aged between 15 to 24 is 0.13 to 0.20 for females and 0.25 to 0.38 for males, official figures say.

Key to addressing HIV, STDs and teenage pregnancy is the right information, but many teachers lack training on this and often feel lost. They end up resorting to safer ground by discussing sex solely in terms of population and family planning.

Many Vietnamese parents too say sex education is inappropriate. “Nobody taught me about sex when I was sixteen, still I did have a healthy and happy family,” said Nguyen Van Tam, a 56-year-old father.

Still, MoET officials are putting their faith behind sex education programmes first introduced during the 2000-2001 schoolyear that place a strong emphasis on openly discussing sexual health matters with students.

“We need to talk to students about sex and safe sex rather than arguing about whether they should or should not be having sex,” argued Nguyen Minh, a secondary school teacher here.

Minh says that it is time sex education is approached in a way that satisfies teenagers’ information needs, which often requires audiovisual material to stimulate group discussion and questions.

“Only in a relaxed environment can students have the opportunity of understanding their sexual needs and behave accordingly,” Minh said.

The young Ly could not agree more. “If only I had been supplied with more information and concrete advice,” she rued.

 
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Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Headlines, Health, Population

HEALTH-VIETNAM: Sex Education Falls Short of Mark, Say Students

Tran Dinh Thanh Lam

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam, Dec 18 2002 (IPS) - Poor teacher training and a high incidence of teenage pregnancies and abortions are prompting experts and educators to back reforms in the way Vietnam teaches its youth about sexual and reproductive matters.
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