Schools Out: Research synthesis report

From 2018-2020, Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM) worked in partnership with the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and civil society partners across seven countries in southern Africa to implement the Schools Out project, funded by AmplifyChange.

In Southern Africa, the impact that faith and religion has on societal values and education are undeniable. In this context, implementing holistic, impartial Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) is very challenging. 

IAM’s role in the project was to explore the questions, “How does religion and faith impact the implementation (teaching and learning) of CSE at high schools?” and “Are learners referred to appropriate Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) services where necessary?” 

Research synthesis report

As the Schools Out research project concluded, IAM worked with consultant Selina Palm to speak with the partners and document lessons learned from 16 high school teachers across the four partner countries involved in teaching or supporting CSE about the role of religion and faith in their teaching.

From these conversations came the report, “Amplifying teachers’ voices for inclusive education: Exploring the roles of religion in comprehensive sexuality education across four African countries.

The report looks in detail at the teachers’ impressions of CSE; their views on the perceived roles of religion, positive and negative, in CSE; and SOGIE learner support and referral systems around SRH and sexuality for learners. The teachers felt that there was a significant value and importance in CSE, but need more training and support to deliver new CSE curriculums that focus on multiple components of sexuality.

The findings

It highlights six ways teachers believe religion has (and does) played a negative role in relation to school-based CSE: resistance by learners, parental concerns, repressive school policies, a public backlash by many faith institutions and conflicting messages for learners from their home, school and faith spaces. 

Teachers also offer six positive possibilities for the role of religion that are being nurtured in small ways, often by the teachers themselves, that need acceleration: developing positive theologies of inclusion and diversity, the reinterpretation of harmful sacred texts at community level, a commitment to ‘do unto others,’ and intersectional forms of inclusion that can generate practical action for safe spaces in schools, with NGOs helping to capacitating people of faith to become champions of change as part of their faith.

The report also looks at whether learners are appropriately referred to services. While this differed between individual teachers, it was felt that the emphasis is more on teenage pregnancy and HIV/AIDS services rather than the specific needs of SOGIE diverse learners.

What next?

The findings from this report will help to contribute to the shared understanding of the important role of CSE in tackling gender based and sexual violence by ensuring that SOGIE dimensions of this issue are not made invisible or left behind. It also emphasizes that religion cannot be ignored in relation to CSE as it continues to play an important role across all aspects of Southern African life – religion and faith must be included in any understanding of “comprehensive” sexuality education, or it can be used as a tool to undermine the teachings. 

IAM is continuing this important work with our partners through new projects, and facilitating opportunities for regional knowledge sharing.

You can access the full report here, along with companion report, “Reflections on religion, faith and comprehensive sexuality education.