08 SES 06 B, Gender, Sexuality and Health Inequalities
Following years of public and academic debate, sexuality education became compulsory in the Danish public school in 1970. Today, sexuality education is taught in basic school (primary and lower secondary education; pupils aged 6-16) as a part of the interdisciplinary topic Health, Sexuality and Family Education (Danish Ministry of Education 2015). The national curriculum outlines the aims and strategies of sexuality education. The curriculum is informed by critical educational theory and the principles of critical health education and promotion, emphasizing democratic, socio-ecological, participatory, inclusive, comprehensive and positive approaches to health and wellbeing in school (Green & Tones 2010; Simovska & McNamara 2015). According to the curriculum, sexuality education has no set timeframe in the school timetable but is integrated in the subject teaching and taught continuously from grade levels 0 to 9. The teachers are expected to collaborate with school nurses and external actors in the local society. Although sexuality education is the responsibility of all teachers, the topic is not a compulsory part of teacher education in Denmark.
Since statutory sexuality education was introduced, it has targeted the entire age group of pupils in basic school. Over time, the changing curricula have prescribed different approaches with a view of age appropriateness. The current curriculum sets specific learning outcomes for the individual pupil for grade levels 0-3, 4-6 and 7-9, respectively (Danish Ministry of Education 2015). Following the introduction of a national sexuality education campaign (“Week Sex”) in 2008, run by the NGO Sex & Samfund, there seems to be a growing understanding among teachers of the importance of early sexuality education. The campaign supplies schools with free teaching materials aligned with the national curriculum. In 2017, almost 15.000 teachers signed up for the campaign, including approximately half a million pupils (Sex & Samfund 2017).
Despite the many years of mandatory sexuality education in Denmark, research on this matter is scarce. Although the majority of Danish teenagers recall learning about sexuality and related issues in schools (Knudsen 2007), studies have indicated a gap between the intentions of the curriculum and school practices. The priority of sexuality education varies from school to school, and almost 2/3 of teachers report to be discontented with the quality of teaching at their school (Sex & Samfund 2012). Until now, no research has looked into the issue of early sexuality education (pupils aged 6-12), mirroring the international landscape of sexuality education research that tends to focus on the adolescent age group (Roien et al. 2018).
Against this background, and informed by a critical educational perspective to sexuality education (Simovska & Roien, in press), important questions can be raised in relation to the sexuality education practices of teachers in the Danish public school: How do they understand, interpret and enact sexuality education in practice? How do their practices differ in regards of the age group they teach? Who teaches the topic and how comfortable are they with their roles and responsibilities in this respect? How do they approach planning, teaching and assessment; and what content do they prioritise? In what ways does knowledge of the curriculum or pre- and in-service training influence teachers’ practices? In addition, what characterise the sexuality education environment at schools in regards of leadership, collaboration and informal dialogue?
Drawing on data from a national survey, this paper sets out to explore and discuss the sexuality education practices of teachers in Denmark in relation to the intentions of the national curriculum and in the context of a recent school reform in the country; the emphasis of the paper is on unfolding the practices of teachers involved in early sexuality education (pupils age 6-12).
In this paper we analyse and discuss data from an cross-sectional national survey conducted in September 2017. The survey targeted a population of teachers in the Danish public school who attended the sexuality education campaign “Week Sex” in February 2017. In total, 10.834 respondents were invited to participate by personal email (equivalent of 100% of the target population), from which 2054 valid responses are included in the final data material (response rate ≈ 19%). The questionnaire was formatted in the programme SurveyXact and administered online. It consisted of mostly closed ended questions regarding the following themes: 1) the professional and personal background of the respondents, 2) information about the school in which they were employed in the school year 2016/2017, 3) their general experiences with sexuality education, 4) their concrete sexuality education teaching practices in the school year 2016/2017, and 5) the challenges they experience in relation to sexuality education. The questionnaire was validated through interviews with teachers and subsequently pilot tested (incl. testing of distribution, responses and analysis) prior to usage. The data was analysed with the use of SPSS Statistics. The survey 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.
The data indicate that the practices of teachers participating in the survey divert from the pedagogical strategies recommended in the national curriculum. For example, during the school year 2016/2017: • 44,5% did not undertake interdisciplinary teaching • 74,6% did not (or only to some degree) involve pupils in planning, and 52% did not (or only to some degree) involve pupils in assessment • 44% did not collaborate with school nurses or other colleagues • 25% of the respondents used the curriculum as a reference point for teaching Additionally, the findings point to low priority of sexuality education in schools. In relation to the school year 2016/2017, 78% of teachers reported absence of sexuality education on the agenda at school meetings; 92% had no experience with school management asking questions about their sexuality education practices; and 73% reported that they did not (or only to some degree) discuss issues related to sexuality education pedagogy and teaching with their colleagues. In regards of the professional competences of the teachers participating in the survey, the data shows that 60% have not participated in pre-service training on sexuality education and 88% have not taken part in in-service training during the last 5 years. However, only 13% express that they feel ill equipped to teach the topic. The survey provides an extensive insight into the sexuality education practices of teachers in Denmark 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 indicate limited support for the sexuality education in the school structures and culture. This, along with the absence of professional development of teachers, both pre-service and in-service presents a serious challenge when it comes to enacting the critical pedagogical intentions of the curriculum in practice.
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 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. 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 Sex & Samfund (2017). Annual report 2016 (in Danish: Årsrapport 2016). 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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