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14 May 2013
A new teacher education program developed by Deakin University academics Dr Debbie Ollis and Associate Professor Lyn Harrison and PhD candidate Claire Maharaj, will ensure beginning teachers have the skills to lead sexuality education lessons with their students.
The program, funded by the Victorian Government’s Sexual Health and Viral Hepatitis Unit is believed to be a first in Australia and possibly worldwide.
It gives educators a ready-made resource with which to build a sexuality education program for their teaching students, ensuring they are equipped with the knowledge, skill, comfort and confidence to integrate sexuality education content issues and activities into health education programs.
Dr Ollis said significantly the program had been developed in line with the Australian Curriculum (AUSVELS 2013) and the Shape Paper for Health and Physical Education (ACARA 2012) which guides the national curriculum.
“We started off basing it around our own work with pre-service teachers and our research that was flowing out of that, but it’s turned into a huge resource that can be used by people developing programs for their pre-service teachers,” she said.
“It is also very current and features material designed to prepare teachers to cover age appropriate approaches to issues of technology, sexualisation, and pornography.
Dr Ollis said a 2009 Victorian Health Department report into the provision of sexuality education for new teachers had found that little existed, both for pre-service secondary and primary teachers, it was also inconsistent and adhoc.
“In most cases, sexuality education will only be allocated a few hours in the secondary health curriculum and is increasingly being integrated with more general content related to student health and wellbeing,” she said.
“We know from our own research, primary school teachers are rarely prepared with the knowledge, skills and understandings to confidently and competently address sexuality education.
“Yet sexuality education does not just suddenly emerge in secondary schools.”
Dr Ollis said as a result current teachers lacked formal qualifications in sexuality education and did not feel confident teaching it.
“It is widely acknowledged that targeting teaching students is the best strategy,” she said.
Dr Ollis said that even teaching the teachers about sexuality education had its challenges.
“Teachers have to be comfortable with their sexuality before talking with their students about the issues they may be facing or wish to discuss, they also have to address their own personal attitudes to diverse sexualities, male authority and gender relations as well as the power relations inherent in society and the school environment,” she said.
Dr Ollis said another emerging challenge in teaching sexuality education was the imbalance of male and female teachers.
“At Deakin for instance in the three years from 2009 to 2011, our elective unit Teaching Sexuality in the Middle Years attracted 18 male students out of 85 total students, which isn’t an unusual breakdown,” she said.
“So when you get to specific subject areas, masculine subject areas such as science have a bare majority of male teachers, other areas such as sexuality education which are seen as ‘feminine’ struggle.”
Dr Ollis said part of the reason was that the subject matter required men to explore their own experiences, personal beliefs about masculinity, attitudes and identity but also the constraints in school and wider society where male teachers were expected to inhabit particular roles and exhibit particular authoritarian behaviours.
“Sexual health is an area where these issues come to the fore and that is before male teachers and male students address the other societal concerns about men and sexual abuse of children and the problematic relationship between caring and showing affection,” she said.
“That said more men are choosing elective studies in sexuality – at Deakin we had three students in 2009, five in 2010 and ten in 2011 and this year we will have a cohort of male teachers trained to teach sexuality education in primary school.
“As of this year students undertaking the Bachelor of Health and Physical Education at Deakin are required to do compulsory studies in sexuality education.
“This is the first pre-service health and Physical education program I know of in Australia that requires their students to undertake separate studies in sexuality education.
“It will also mean that we will build the capacity of our male students.”