By Oloth SENE-ASA, National Programme Analyst for SRH

(KPL) For the first time, students of technical and vocational education training (TVET) in the Lao PDR were able to attend comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) courses.

Six hundred students, mostly around age 14-22 in Bokeo TVET College enjoyed one-week intensive training on CSE at the end of 2019.

They participated actively in interactive sessions on gender equality, healthy relationships, reproductive health, family planning, decision making, communication skills, and effective use of information and communication technology.

The curriculum was in line with the life skills education manual adopted from international CSE standards and endorsed by the Ministry of Education and Sports. 

Valida Phanthasith gained more confidence through her active participation together with her friends and teachers. “I was shy at the beginning. But as I was more involved, I began to like the sessions. I know more about puberty and decision-making now. CSE is important for us, because it tells us what to do and what to avoid. ”

Role play was what Xayasith Nalebouth enjoyed most. The 18-year old boy and his friends asked a lot of questions regarding family planning methods and whether using contraceptives would harm a girl’s health.

For him, an important learning is that mutual respect is a key factor in relationship, and everyone has a responsibility in keeping the whole family healthy.

Young people under 25 in Laos take up more than half of the total population in Laos. With proper investment on their health, education and employment, they will be the driving force for the country to achieve sustainable development.

However, as elsewhere, young people in Laos are facing multiple risks and challenges. Despite of remarkable progress made, among girls aged 10-19, nearly 1 in 5 girls are married and 1 in 10 have begun childbearing, and more than 1 in 20 have dropped out of school.

In the Lao PDR, currently there are nearly 36,000 students pursuing the Technical and Vocational Education and Training path after leaving junior high school. Many of them come from marginalized poor communities from rural areas and ethnic groups. With limited access to information and services on reproductive health and essential life skills, the TVET students are more vulnerable of falling in traps of early pregnancy, child marriage, and gender-based violence, etc.

With support from UNFPA, the Ministry of Education endorsed a manual on Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) for the TVET education system.

The manual was developed in line with the international technical guidance on sexuality education, taking into account of successful experiences of neighbouring countries and the local context in Laos.

To roll out the CSE training for TVET students, UNFPA supported training of teachers to deliver the courses with participatory methods. Ms. Southida Souchantha, a Business Administration, Hotel and Tourism Management teacher, was among the first batch of 30 qualified teachers. During the CSE week, she applied participatory methods and visual aids to engage the students. “CSE was not available for me when I was a student. I am glad that now I can help my students to prepare for their healthy lives,” she explained.  

Bordering Thailand and Myanmar and rising as the golden economic development area, Bokeo relies on TVET for skilled labour to boost the economy. Mr. Khamsao Xayphanya, Deputy Director General of Bokeo TVET College stressed that with age-appropriate knowledge and essential life skills, CSE will help TVET students to develop positive attitudes and values, which are equally important as vocational skills.

He is committed to make CSE available to new students enrolled to study in Bokeo TVET College.

To make the CSE initiative sustainable, the Bokeo TVET College has pledged to contribute 30 per cent of financial costs required to provide CSE courses to three hundred student interns in the beginning of 2020, and 500 newly enrolled students at the end of the year.

The Ministry of Education and Sports (MOES) has included CSE an important component in the national education development plan. Following the rolling out of CSE in Bokeo, more resources will be mobilized to scale up the initiative nationwide to cover all TVET students in Laos.  

“UNFPA and partners of the 2030 Noi Framework will continue to support the Lao Government to develop sustainable models to make age-appropriate CSE available to all adolescents and young people,” said Mariam Khan, UNFPA Representative in Laos.

Currently, with support from UNFPA, the Ministry of Education and Sports has integrated CSE in the national curriculum of primary education to benefit approximately 400,000 students nationwide.

Over 25,000 students of 45 secondary schools in 5 districts of Bokeo province and over 7,500 students of the 8 teacher training education colleges received the comprehensive sexuality education through the implementation of teachers’ guidebook on CSE.                

KPL