03 SES 12 A, Curriculum and the Role of Learning and Teaching Resources
The expectations for sexuality education in the Danish public school are in many ways highly ambitious. The teaching aims to develop the critical and democratic thinking of the pupils as well as their competences to promote health and wellbeing. According to the national curriculum (Danish Ministry of Education 2015), sexuality education is the responsibility of all teachers, who are to integrate the topic in all school subjects and teach it continuously from the pupils start school at age six until they leave the basic school at age 15-16. Furthermore, teachers are expected to collaborate with school nurses and external actors in the local society on the complex planning, teaching and assessment of the learning of the individual pupil (Danish Ministry of Education 2015). All of this, without sexuality education having a set timeframe in the school timetable and without the topic being a compulsory part of teacher education in Denmark.
Following decades of public and academic debate, compulsory sexuality education was introduced in the Danish public school in 1970. Although the changing curricula have promoted different educational aims, views of sexuality and pedagogical strategies, the fundamental organisational principles have remained the same. These include 1) teaching the entire age group of pupils in basic school, 2) integration in the subjects teaching and 3) all teachers being responsible for sexuality education. The current curriculum, however, is highly influenced by international trends within education policy and focus on measurable outcomes, assessment and accountability (Imsen et al. 2017). Where statutory learning outcomes (knowledge, skills and competencies) are set by the Ministry of Education, the individual teacher has the flexibility and freedom to develop his or her own sexuality education curriculum, ideally with the involvement of pupils.
Despite the almost fifty years of experience with sexuality education in Denmark, educational research on the matter is scarce. However, studies have indicated a gap between the intentions of the sexuality education curriculum and school practises (Sex & Samfund 2012). Although the majority of Danish teenagers recall learning about sexuality and related issues in schools (Knudsen 2007), the priority of sexuality education seems to vary to a great extent between schools, and almost 2/3 of teachers report to be discontented with the quality of teaching at their school (Sex & Samfund 2012). Yet, in depth understandings of the teachers experiences and challenges with their role as curriculum makers in sexuality education aiming at democratic Bildung (Klafki 2011; Simovska & Roien, in press) is lacking. Furthermore, until now, no research has looked specifically into the issue of teachers involved in early sexuality education (pupils ages 6 to 12), mirroring the general tendencies in international sexuality education research that tends to focus on the adolescent age group (Roien et al. 2018).
The study is informed by critical theory and critical health education research (Green & Tones 2010; Simovska & McNamara 2015) and is inspired by a socio-ecological approach to teacher agency (Priestley et al. 2014). In this perspective, teacher agency is conceptualised not as an individual capacity but as something that is achieved by means of the school environment. Hence, teacher agency is both promoted and limited by the complex interplay between individual and contextual factors, including cultural, structural and material resources in schools.
Against this background, this paper sets out to explore how teachers involved in early sexuality education in the Danish public school “translate”, interpret, transform and enact in practice the national curriculum aims and guidelines related to sexuality education. Furthermore, it raises important questions linked to how school environment influence teacher agency in sexuality education within in the current context of public schools in Denmark.
The paper draws on empirical data from a mixed methods study (Creswell 2017) consisting of 1) a multiple case study in three public schools, including 15 semi-structured interviews with public school teachers involved in early sexuality education (grade levels 0-6), head masters and key persons at local government level, and 2) a national survey among teachers in the public basic school (grade levels 0-9) participating in a national sexuality education campaign in 2017 (n=2054). Data-collection took place in two phases, where the second phase was partly determined by findings from the first: Interviews were undertaken in February to June 2017, and the survey was conducted during the month of September 2017. The interviews were recorded, transcribed and coded with the use of the Nvivo Pro software. The survey data was electronically collected using an internet based self-administered questionnaire, formatted with the use of the SurveyXact software, and subsequently analysed in SPSS Statistics. The findings presented here are based on an integrated analysis of the two datasets (Bazeley 2018) with a specific focus on data regarding teachers involved in early sexuality education. The study is conducted in connection with the AU Ideas Center for Research in Schools for Health and Sustainability at the Department of Education, Aarhus University, in collaboration with the Danish Family Planning Association. The study is a part of a larger PhD study based on a mixed methods research design and follows the policy and guidelines for responsible conduct of research at Aarhus University. The study is registered at the Danish Data Protection Agency.
Findings from the study suggest that sexuality education is considered an important topic in school, including in the early years, and that teachers tend to talk about early sexuality education as a matter of promoting pupil wellbeing. Teachers have limited knowledge of the content of the national curriculum and a minority of them use the curriculum as a reference point for planning, teaching and assessing sexuality education. Instead, they seem to be highly dependent on available teaching materials. Generally, teachers rarely collaborate on planning and they express how professional dialogue regarding sexuality education is uncommon. Only a minority of teachers have participated in pre- or in-service training on sexuality education, however, many express that they feel competent to teach the topic. The general impression is that there is a sense of low priority of sexuality education in schools, which is accentuated in the context of the most recent school reform. The study provides an insight into the difficult conditions revolving around early sexuality education in Danish public schools that may qualify discussions on school policy, curriculum and professional development as well as point to new directions in international sexuality education research on the topic. The findings show great contradictions between the intended curriculum provided by the Ministry of Education and the practises of the teachers involved in early sexuality education. Teachers seem to work much on their own and no collective meaning making processes on the purposes, pedagogies and challenges of sexuality education seem to take place in schools. This, together with low priority from school management level in regards of development of cultures and structures supporting how teachers work with sexuality education, pose major challenges when it comes to enacting the critical pedagogical intentions of the curriculum in practice.
Bazeley, P. (2018). Integrating analyses in mixed methods research. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications Cresswell, J. W. & Plano Clark, V.L. (2017). Designing and conducting mixed methods research (3rd ed.). Los Angeles: SAGE Danish Ministry of Education (2015). The executive order no. 663 of 18/05/2015 (In Danish: Bekendtgørelse om formål, kompetencemål og færdigheds- og vidensmål for folkeskolens fag og emner (”Fælles Mål”), BEK nr 663 af 18/05/2015). Localised November 1, 2017 on www.retsinformation.dk/Forms/R0710.aspx?id=170471 Green, J., & Tones, K. (2010). Health promotion: planning and strategies (2. Ed.). Los Angeles: SAGE Imsen, G., Blossing U. & Moos, L. (2017) Reshaping the Nordic education model in an era of efficiency. Changes in the comprehensive school project in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden since the millennium, Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 61:5, 568-583 Klafki, W. (2011). Theory of Bildung and Didaktik: new studies (in Danish: Dannelsesteori og didaktik : nye studier) (3. ed.). Aarhus: Klim. Knudsen, L. (2007). Young2006. The 15-24 year olds sexuality – knowledge, attitudes and behaviour (In Danish: Ung2006. 15-24-åriges seksualitet – viden, holdninger og adfærd). København: Sundhedsstyrelsen. Priestley, M., Biesta, G. & Robinson, S. (2016). Teacher agency: An ecological approach. London: Bloomsbury Roien, L., Graugaard, C. & Simovska, V. (2018).The Research Landscape of School-based Sexuality Education: Systematic Mapping of the Literature. Health Education, Vol. 118, Issue: 2, pp.159-170 Sex & Samfund (2012). Study of sexuality education in schools (in Danish: Undersøgelse af seksualundervisning i skolen). Copenhagen: Sex & Samfund Simovska, V., & McNamara, P. M. (Eds.). (2015). Schools for health and sustainability: theory, research and practice. Dordrecht: Springer Simovska, V. & Roien, L. (in press). Key concepts in sexuality education: Perspectives from critical health education (in Danish: Nøglebegreber i seksualundervisning: Perspektiver fra kritisk sundhedspædagogik). Copenhagen: Hans Reitzel
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