The SexEd project encourages young people and professionals to talk about sexual health
The long-term goal is for young people to have access to up-to-date information and competence to assess their own sexual health and a positive attitude towards responsible sexuality. The project also aims to increase the ability of professionals working with young people to guide sexual and reproductive themes.
The project, Protecting Children's Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights by Future Professionals in Finland and South Africa (SexEd), is implemented in cooperation with TAMK's key partner in social and health care, South African North-West University. Students and teachers from the University located in Potchefstroom visited TAMK in early October.
TAMK has eight students from several fields of study and four lecturers from nursing, midwifery, social services and teacher training. Responsible persons are participating in the project from North-West University (NWU). The project also involves three Master's students in nursing science from the University of Tampere completing their project studies. The project is financed by the Team Finland Knowledge program.
During the intensive period, the students designed sex education material
The week filled with workshops at TAMK was the first actual activity of the project, for which the students created the program themselves and for which they were responsible for its implementation. The main goal of the intensive week was to strengthen everyone's own professionalism in encountering and bringing up issues related to sexual health and to guide young people towards evidence-based sexuality education.
“Our own students have taken on a lot of responsibility in a wonderful way. The students applied for the project and are very motivated,” say Eeva-Mari Miettinen, Lecturer in Social Work, and Anne Mäenpää, Lecturer in Nursing.
Third-year public health nursing student Venla Lipo applied for the project in spring 2023.
“I applied out out of interest in the subject. I am particularly interested in sexual education for children and young people in the future. I've been thinking about working at school or otherwise with young people, for example," Lipo says.
During the intensive period, materials for the return visit were brainstormed. TAMK's project team will travel to South Africa for a week in February 2024. At that time, students will be able to attend local schools to conduct sex education-themed lessons using materials they have designed.
Self-confidence for sex education
Jeremiah Sebei is majoring in Life Orientation and English at North-West University.
"The program will benefit me in the future because it builds my confidence in sex education. The project deals with a wide range of issues that I will use in my classes to benefit my students,” Sebei says.
Johandi Neethling from NWU, who teaches midwifery nursing, says that South Africa has problems with teenage pregnancies and sexuality of all ages.
"I believe that just starting a conversation about sexuality benefits not only teenagers, but also parents, teachers and health professionals. We strive to ensure that the right information reaches the right target groups and hopefully makes a difference.”
Similar challenges in different contexts
NWU staff are full of praise for the partnership with TAMK. Professor Tinda Rabie studies teenage pregnancies, which is why this project is her focus.
"I am honoured to be South Africa's principal investigator on the subject. The week was great, we felt very welcome and cared for at TAMK. I enjoyed how students and teachers worked together as a team and how friendships were made in just one week. It was also interesting to examine from a multidisciplinary perspective what kind of challenges different countries face in protecting children's sexual and reproductive health and related rights, and how different contexts approach this topic,” says Rabie.
Her colleague Julialet Rens teaches life orientation at NWU, of which sex education is an integral part. Although the subject is part of the university's teaching offering, some teachers are afraid of a sensitive subject. He sees the project as very useful for teaching the topic.
"New, innovative ideas were shared during the week. That's why the project is so interesting: we need to combine our knowledge and experience," Rens says.
“I have learned a lot from my colleagues at TAMK. We look forward to welcoming them to South Africa next year. Then we can show what kind of context there is for our work.”
Student Venla Lipo intends to utilise the project in her thesis, which she is working on together with social services student Saana Olkkonen .
“The topic of the thesis is sexual education for 13–18-year-olds. The work aims to take into account a culturally sensitive approach,” Lipo says.
Text and photos: Emmi Rämö