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Perception of Parents and Teachers towards Sex Education in Nigeria

By

Michael Irabor Ibiezugbe Ph.D.

Department of Social Work 

Faculty of Social Sciences

University of Benin, Benin city.

 +2348063376076 email: ibzmike@yahoo.com

Abstract

Sex education has been a hidden treasure from childhood to adulthood and the gap keep widening due to the perception of various agents of socialization. The ripple effects of this untold mystery to the unknown carry a grave consequence. It is therefore pertinent for a review of this study to examine the perception of parents and teachers towards sex education in Nigeria. This study examines the nexus between parents and their wards in sexual issues and also that of their teachers. Secondary sources were reviewed and based on their perceived opinions, conclusions and recommendations were made.

 

Keywords: Sexuality, sex education, Parent, Teachers.

 

Introduction

Sex education has become an obligatory issue of discussion in contemporary society such that parents, teachers, society and even students find it difficult to address due to the general understanding of sexuality. In the traditional Nigeria societies, it is assumed that the best way to prevent sexual immorality among youth and young adults is by keeping them almost completely if not completely ignorant of sex and sexuality matters, sometimes until their marriage night (Adegboyega and Fabiyi 2004). In some Nigerian homes most especially in a rural set up children are shy at times to ask questions about sex and sexuality and those who are brave enough to ask are often stigmatized and constantly watched (Ogunjimi2002).

Ekundayo (1999), avers that Sex education is not, and should never be, to corrupt the youths and teenagers. He admonishes that equating sexuality education and its possible inclusion in school curriculum as an open call for the expression of sexual indecency. Ekundayo (1999) concluded that sex education is not a course designed to enhance human lust but to educate the individual about sexual activities and its resultant effects.

According to WHO, Sexuality is a central aspect of being human throughout life and encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviors, practices, and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, ethical, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors (WHO, 2006). Therefore sexuality education encompasses all aspects of sexuality including information about family planning, reproduction, body image, sexual orientation, sexual pleasure, values, decision making, communication, dating, relationships, sexually transmitted infections and how to avoid them, and birth control methods. (Collins 2008), In African context especially in Nigeria, sex education is seen as a taboo. Generally, adolescents are not allowed to have access to sexual health information because the society has the perception that such exposure will corrupt the child.

Theorizing sex education in Nigerian schools is not a new idea Nigeria, as Adepoju (2005) and Abdu (2006) postulated that traditional form of sex education and family life education has been in existence where kinship systems,  and some age initiation ceremonies where the youths were tutored about manhood and womanhood has been practiced. Traditionally, sex education was to be given to every child and adolescents by his/her immediate family but these practice has been eroded by the influence of modernization, western civilization, and collapsing family life; thereby leaving the young ones at the mercy of the wider society and other socializing agents who may not give accurate information to the children.

Sex education seeks to assist in having clear and factual views of sexuality. It is a process of acquiring information and forming attitudes and beliefs about sex, sexual identity, relationships and intimacy.  (Avert 2011) Sex education is also a means by which young people can protect themselves from abuse, exploitation, unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV and AIDS. However most parents are ignorant of their children’s needs on sexual matters, as it seems that parents do not actually know the areas of interest to be discussed with their ward especially on issues of sexuality. Sex education also means safeguarding or protecting the youths against the consequences of sexual ignorance as well as preparing them for responsible life (Njoku, 2008).

The gap between the family and other institutions towards sexual education has been widened due to the influence of some external factors, since the family which is the primary agent of socialization where sex education ought to be taught seems not to help the adolescents in this regard, as issues that have to do with sexuality is oftentimes not discussed with them (Abdu, 2006).  Many adolescents have resorted to confiding in their friends and school mates who often mislead them knowingly or unknowingly (Udemezue, 2011). Apart from their friends, they also source for information from the internet, television, pornographic films and materials which often mislead them and cause more havoc and confusion.

 

Perception of Parents towards the Influence of Sex Education on Adolescents 

In most Africa context especially in Nigeria, sex education is seen as a taboo to be talked about. Generally, children are not allowed to have access to sexual health information because the society have the perception that such exposure will corrupt the child and he or she may likely be a victim of early sexual intercourse. In 2002 when the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Education, civil societies and many other International Development Partners drafted and proposed a curriculum on Sexuality Education for both primary and Secondary schools, it was received with mixed feelings and generated raging controversy especially in Northern Nigeria. Within a very short time, the discussion on its acceptability or otherwise was hijacked by religious leaders and other stakeholders and was given different connotations and coloration. A recent study carried out in Kano state in Northern Nigeria revealed that parents have a negative perception of sexuality education in schools probably because of their religious belief and socio-cultural norms and values. In contrast, teachers had positive attitude towards teaching sex education in schools. Nevertheless, several studies in Nigeria have validated the introduction of sex education in schools. A cross-sectional study carried out in Kwara State, Nigeria reported that 78% of the respondents suggested that sex education should be made compulsory in schools (Akande & Akande, 2007).

Parents seem to be one of the earliest and most important influences on children’s sexual development and socialization. Given that children nowadays have sexual intercourse at an earlier age it is important that parents begin to discuss sexuality in childhood so that they can help their children to make deliberate decisions about having sex and can inform them about safe sex. Parents may be the ideal source of providing children with information about sex because of their long-term involvement in the lives of their children (Perrino, Gonzalez-Soldevilla, Pantin and Szapocnik, 2000).

The attitudes and beliefs of parents form the basic foundation for the values of their children. Although direct communication between parents and children about sexuality is limited in many families, parents may be sources of guidelines for children as they both directly and indirectly transmit their standards of conduct during the socialization process. Parental attitudes and values concerning premarital sexuality may also affect their own patterns of discipline and childrearing, which, in turn, influence the behavior of their children. Parents with restrictive attitudes toward children sexuality may structure their own activities to provide more supervision of their children and to allow their children less autonomy, which may reduce children sexual behavior (Thornton &Camburn, 2000). Using10,000 females in the sophomore cohort of the nationally representative High School and Beyond Survey, Hanson et al. (2007) found that attitudes and values of children and their parents played an important role in out-of-wedlock childbearing. When children and their parents endorsed the values and accompanying behaviors that stress responsibility, the children’ chances of experiencing an out-of-wedlock childbirth were reduced.

Today’s children are much more intelligent, alert, curious and conscious of the fact that their parents and elder stalk some secret behind them. They want to know the secret. If the secret is concealed from them they may take some wrong approach and develop undesirable habits. Parents are so much traditional and orthodox in their outlook that they do not prefer imparting sex-education as a noble work. Sometimes children satisfy their instincts and get mythical information about sex from sources such as servants, friends, relatives, and T.V. programmes etc., these information may be incorrect and could have spurious effect on them. Nigerian society is closed in nature and it follows double standards on the question of sex-education. It generates an utter confusion in the mind of children and sex taboos become a sense of great mysticism in their mind. Children experience a great deal of anxiety emerging out of poor knowledge about their sexual developments and form misconceptions. Children whose parents coverts sexual issues are most likely to fall into all sort of unwholesome sexual practices which often times is accompanied by many ugly adverse effects.

 

Effect of Sex Education on Sexuality

Sexuality education also referred to as sex education or family life education is a lifelong process of acquiring information forming attitudes, beliefs and values. It encompasses sexual development, reproductive health, interpersonal relationships, affection, intimacy, body image and gender roles. Sexuality behaviour amongst young people in Nigeria and indeed Sub Saharan Africa is seriously going through transformation from what it was in the past. This transformation has been attributed to the effect of modernization caused by industrialization, education, exposure and importation of various foreign cultures that were alien to Nigeria and Africa.

This has increased the vulnerability of young people to sexual and reproductive health problems. In recent times the Nigerian youth have been reported to be highly vulnerable to antisocial behaviors including unsafe sexual activities. This has been attributed to their great lack of information and knowledge about the implications of their behaviour on their sexual health. There is therefore the need for sexuality education amongst this vulnerable group. It develops young people’s skills so that they make informed choices about their behaviour, and feel confident and competent about acting on these choices.

Ikpe (2004) postulated that “Sexuality defines the very essence of one’s humanity including one’s self–image, being male or female, physical looks and reproductive capacity; that is sexuality is a natural part of life. It is about the way we are made, how we feel about ourselves, what roles we play in the society and how we procreate”. Religious and spiritual beliefs influence feelings about morality, sexual behaviour, pre-marital sexual behaviour, adultery, divorce, contraception, abortion and masturbation (Greenberg et al 2000). Sexuality education can be seen as yet another religion which is not necessarily different from what already obtains.

Sexuality education has been given various definitions by various schools of thought. AHI (2003) described sexuality education as “a planned process of education that fosters the acquisition of actual information, the formation of positive attitudes, beliefs and values as well as the development of skills to cope with the biological, psychological, socio-cultural and spiritual aspects of human sexuality.” That is, learning about the anatomy, physiology and bio-chemistry of the sexual response system which determines identity, orientations, thoughts and feelings as influenced by values beliefs, ethics and moral concerns.

It is the interactive relationship of these dimensions that describes an individual’s total sexuality (SIECUS, 2009). Also, sexuality education teaches us that, religious principles, beliefs, rules and regulations and ethical considerations affect our everyday interactions just as our culture, role models in our families and our friends impact us as well. Sexuality education is simply the art of learning how to conform to a certain art of living by being able to reason, examine and monitor oneself in clearly defined terms.

Despite all the positive potentials of sexuality education, the major challenges were what form sexuality should take and at what level it should be introduced in the schools. There was also the problem of methodology. Sexuality education was seen as the gospel of the flesh that could lead to sexual espionage, egoism and revelry among the young.

The young recipients of sexuality education were therefore referred to as “victims”.

Notwithstanding, serious advocates of sexuality education insisted on driving home the potentials of sexuality education such as building new standards and removing deceptions between people and by the dawn of the 1900s, several events had occurred which changed the way people perceived sexuality hence sexuality education was introduced in most schools. Talking to the young about sexual life becomes less controversial among the some parts of Nigeria. As children become sexually educated, their chance of falling into risks becomes reduced and this made them assume a visibly significant part of the society.

The evolution of sexuality education and its introduction in Nigerian schools came about when it was apparent that there was, as there is, an urgent need to address children reproductive health, reproductive rights and sexuality issues. The need to prepare the children for their adulthood roles that conform to contemporary life styles has become paramount and success was seen to depend greatly on basic education and information on health care and positive relationships provided for the children.

In recent times, the Action Health Incorporated (AHI) has been in the frontline of NGOs complementing government’s efforts in raising awareness about adolescent health issues and setting a new direction for adolescent sexuality education in Nigeria by building on lessons from the past success and constraints, and appreciating the present potentials of sexuality education in strengthening national development efforts for a brighter future.

AHI has viewed sexuality education as an educational process which provides for an articulated and practical study of the various dimensions of human sexuality with the aim of developing in the individual a more rational attitude and responsible behaviour towards improving the quality of life of the individual now and in the future.

Sexuality education thus fulfills this highly needed function of sexual health promotion. Sex education is imperative for boys and girls as it will aid them to have access to sexual health information make informed decision that will guarantee them a reputable future and acquire life skills to deal with sexuality and relationships in a satisfactory and responsible manner.

Sexuality, rather than morality, has become the custom and children are not excluded from this exposure. Undeniably, the issue of sex education in schools has been very controversial with respect to the stage at which it should begin.

In United States, critics have posed some questions about the state’s usurpation of parental rights and responsibilities, the adequacy of ethical instruction and the wisdom of imparting sexual information to immature minds (Sanders, 2008). But, the intriguing question is this: do parents find it necessary to introduce their children, especially those at the lower levels of education to sex education? Perception towards sex education differs from one group to another depending on many factors like dominant perceptions, social belief systems, religious factors, family socialization and cultural set up within which learners grow up (Gallagher & Gallagher, 1996). It also depends on the attitude of teachers who will be responsible for the formal aspects (Nokwe, 1991) and principally parents who are a child’s first point of contact and play a vital role in the informal education of the child. This is why parental attitude on the topic of sex education is very important. Our cultures’ hesitant attitude about sexuality is evident in the limitations placed on sex education in schools and often in its total absence from the curriculum (Baron and Byme, 1994).

 

Conclusion and Recommendations

The study examined sex education and sexuality perception by parents and how it affects the young adolescents. It was revealed in the study that the cultural and traditional beliefs of sexuality have had an irrecoverable influence on the perception of parents and teachers in educating the adolescents on sex education. Parents are of the ideology that sex knowledge should be preserved until the adolescents are fully grown or married. Pointing out that early awareness of sex education may result in immoral activities of the adolescents. While on the contrary parents failed to consider the fact that the growth of technological advancement which has been accepted also meant that their ideology should change. It is therefore necessary for teachers and parents to jointly work together in other to change their perception towards sex education and also help the adolescents in understanding sexuality and the controversies surrounding the concept so as to enable them function well in accordance to the global technological advancement.

From the foregoing, the following recommendations are suggested:

  1. Teachers should be well trained and informed in handling sex education as a subject in the school, they should apply a less biological and mechanical way in educating young adolescents and students. Approaches such as assertive thinking, negation and decision making, self-esteem and creative thinking, self-awareness and a host of others can be incorporated to facilitate daily activities. Such approach will empower the young ones in having a positive perception towards sexuality and building their skill of decision making.
  2. Parents and teachers have an important role to play in providing factual and correct information on sexual health to adolescent since they spend most of their time with their parents at home and teachers at schools.
  3. The government should partner with NGO’s and other health bodies in sensitizing them to promote awareness of the dangers of early exposure to sexuality on young adolescents.
  4. The government also should take up the responsibility of organizing trainings and workshops for teachers and educational practitioners regularly in order to improve their teaching skills and update their knowledge on sexual health and sex education.
  5. Sex education should be adopted in the educational scheme at all levels of education in the country.

 

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Published inNumber 2Volume 5