In Vietnam, secondary school students are highly vulnerable when it comes to sexual well-being. Every 8 hours, a child gets sexually abused (Laodong, 2018). About 70% of secret abortions are performed on teenagers aged between 13 and 16 (Ibid). Both indicators are even higher in rural areas (Ibid). Low sexual well-being is largely the result of low levels of knowledge on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) which are also due to a lack of proper sexuality education leaving young people unprepared and incompetent of coping with sexuality and gender-based issues. The general public had strongly expressed its demand for a Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) programme, and the Ministry of Education and Training approved its CSE guidance (adapted from the UNESCO International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education - ITGSE) in 2018. The document aimed to instruct teachers on how to integrate sexuality education into the regular school programme. This was a very significant step; however, its uptake by schools was very low. There are two possible reason for this:
1. The guideline does not come with a complete CSE curriculum. To deliver lessons, teachers need detailed lesson plans and adequate teaching tools in their hands, which are lacking.
2. There is a lack of competence of teaching staff. Almost no teachers were trained to teach CSE. Thus, expecting them to deliver quality lessons just based on a document of guidance is not a realistic plan.
Thai Binh province, where the programme is implemented, has 90% of the population in rural areas (provincial government data, 2018) and lower average per capita income of US$188/month (ibid), which is over 40% lower than the national average of US$238 (World Bank, 2020). With regards to SRHR, it has a high rate of sex imbalances at birth, on the rise in the last 5 years (100 girls/106 boys), because of sex-selective abortion caused by heavy gender prejudices (Thai Bin Radio and TV station, 2021).
WeGrow Education Vietnam (WeGrow) was started as an NGO called Vietnam Organization for Gender Equality (VOGE) in 2016 by three undergraduates and is a registered Social Enterprise since 2019. It has a vision of all young people having access to Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and being empowered to become the best version of themselves, and a mission to deliver CSE solutions effectively empowering Vietnamese youth to live their full potential. The WeGrow curriculum is said to be the only curriculum in Vietnam that complies with CSE guidance, both internationally (the UNESCO ITGSE guide) and nationally (the adapted guide from the ITGSE, approved by Vietnam’s Ministry of Education and Training). Having examined the successful model of ‘soft-skills for primary students’ delivered as a subject in schools in Vietnam (programmes named Poki and GAIA that are now in use in more than 5,000 schools), WeGrow has fashioned their intervention similarly with the strategy to be build a learner-centred CSE curriculum that is scalable and cultivating a supportive school system through on-going training of school teachers in delivering the CSE curriculum effectively. In their paid-model, schools have to pay a fee to access the content, which is often charged to the students. With EMpower’s grant, the schools in resource poor settings do not have to pay a fee. Within their short time in operation, they have already received notable recognition: They finished among top 10 social entrepreneur projects at the Social Business Creation international competition organized by HEC Montreal University in Canada (2019), there were one of 25 firms in Southeast Asia to be sponsored by the U.S. State Department to develop a pilot project to promote gender equality among high school students in Vietnam and they received funding from Australian Aid for a media campaign against sexual harassment.
EMpower’s first grant to WeGrow Education Vietnam (WeGrow) strengthens the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) knowledge and change attitudes of 2,374 young people aged 11 to 15 years old (of which half are girls) across three schools in Thai Binh province on a Comprehensive Sexuality Education programme offered through a 45-minute lesson a week, throughout the whole school year. Each student will have 32 lessons, covering values, rights, culture and sexuality, sexuality and sexual behaviour, the human body and development, relationships, SRHR product and service access, violence and staying safe, skills for health and well-being and understanding gender. The programme is coupled with a comprehensive teacher support program and will be delivered by 60 teachers, who will be trained and certified by WeGrow in a Training of Trainers (TOT) before teaching the students, and will continue to be supported and audited along the way.
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