What can we learn from the Netherlands about Sex and Affective Education in schools?
Last November, the ISEX partnership went to Amsterdam for an international study trip, hosted by InTouch. Together with teachers and educators from the 4 partner countries, we shared our respective experiences and to get to know new realities regarding the sexual and affective education of european students.
Breaking the ice
Guided by our Dutch In Touch partners, we started with an ISEX-style welcome, that is creating our own safe-space to immediately create a welcoming atmosphere in which to feel comfortable.
“Empathy, curiosity, listening without judging, good humor, patience, openness, feeling inclusз, growing, without shame, having fun, communication, dreaming, hope…”
These are some of the elements we decided to build together.
We sail in the same sea…
From sharing and analyzing the various educational systems, sex and affective education practices, and social and cultural conditioning constructs of each country (Greece, Italy, Hungary, and the Netherlands), it was found that:
In Italy, Hungary and Greece, sex education in schools continues to be lacking. On the one hand, there is no compulsoriness in schools, so the possibility (and responsibility) to address these topics in the classroom falls on principals. On the other hand, when it is done, we are limited to an “extensive” approach focused, that is, only on biological and medical aspects (contraceptive methods, sexually transmitted diseases, etc.).
In spite of this, the teachers testify that adolescents are extremely interested in broadening the discussion, and are often met with fear, embarrassment and reticence on the part of their educators – “we don’t know where to start!” they tell them.
On the contrary, in the Netherlands, as Saskia Racz -an anthropologist specializing in sex education – explained to us, since 2012 it has been compulsory to include sex and affective education subjects in the school curriculum. Many external associations structurally intervene alongside teachers, apply non-formal and participatory methodologies, and facilitate the dissemination of a positive approach toward sexuality, which is not a taboo subject.
What then is our role as Sex Educators?
Starting from this analysis of challenges and obstacles, and reviewing our requirements, needs and available resources, many reflections and questions came out to answer this fateful question:
“We have the task of breaking the taboo and opening Pandora’s box, and at the same time making students feel accepted, understood, free to express themselves, and not judged.”
“On our side we have an open and proactive mindset, and a predisposition to accompany students on their personal development journey, life-skills included.”
“We are at a time in history when there are so many liberating and revealing social movements on issues of gender identity, sexual orientation, gender-based violence, etc. that help raise awareness among the younger generation regardless of what we do in school.”
“However, we need to create more listening spaces with the students, to build trust and foster dialogue; the support and collaboration of school leadership in order to actually implement a Sex Ed. curriculum; we need time to do it in curricular time; and finally, we need training, both on the theoretical content and how to deal with it in the classroom.”
What can a city like Amsterdam suggest to us about sex and affective education? We devoted an afternoon to an “Urban Sex Education” activity to discover the city in a fun and mindful way, being inspired in our visit by ISEX’s sex education curriculum.
In this participatory exercise, we formed small groups and chose from one of these themes:
- Feelings and emotions
- Consent and boundaries
- Sex, gender, sexual identity
- Gender and culture
Each group ventured around the city in search of items “related” in various ways to the chosen topic. Each object, place and action concerning the topic of interest had to materialize in various forms: having interactions with other people, overcoming one’s boundaries, and writing down what was observed. All groups then came together to share their experiences, guessing the chosen theme and the connection from the materials.
Visit to the Hyperion Lyceum
Finally, we went to poke around one of the project schools, the Hyperion Lyceum, located in the northern part of Amsterdam. Merel can den Ancker, as an educator, took us on a guided tour and told us how the Dutch educational system works.
Particularly surprising to our eyes were the many student aggregation areas, as well as the youth animators figures who work closely with the students.
As always, we come back home with a sense of enthusiasm and motivation for what we have experienced, but more importantly for what is to come!