October 16, 2023 – Sex education in Croatian schools has been the subject of heated debate for many years, but it is still a non-existent subject in the school curriculum. The initiative to introduce sex education first started in the 1960s, when various associations carried out several petitions and campaigns. Two years ago, almost 13 thousand people signed the petition in less than two days.
In the same year, writes Index, three-quarters of citizens declared that they wanted comprehensive sex education in Croatian schools, but to date, the Ministry of Science and Education has not pushed for a reform that would provide students with sex education.
Four associations from Rijeka have launched an online campaign to highlight the importance of introducing complete sex education in schools. Healthy relationships, healthy future: complete sex education in schools! is the name of the campaign, which, according to the association, was supported by a large part of students and parents.
Associations asking for the introduction of a subject dedicated to sex education in Croatian Schools
The campaign includes reducing the risks associated with destructive sexual behavior, delaying sexual intercourse, reducing the number of sexual partners, and increasing the use of contraception.
“We are basing the campaign on the results of research that examined the state of and needs for the introduction of comprehensive sex education in primary and secondary schools in the Primorje-Gorski Kotar, Sisak-Moslavina and Varaždin counties. 50 primary and secondary school curricula were analyzed, a survey was carried out, which included a large number of educational workers, and a total of seven focus groups were conducted,” said the association PaRiter, who conducted the research with the associations LORI, Delta and SOS Rijeka.
The results of the research showed that the students are mostly interested in implementation and believe that they do not cover topics from the field of comprehensive sexual education enough in regular classes. The association told Index that the teachers declared that comprehensive sexual education does have a place in school.
“As a long-term goal, we see the introduction of a special subject dedicated to complete sex education in Croatian schools, which would ensure enough space for a quality and thorough approach to all areas according to UNESCO’s guidelines,” said the Association, adding that trained teachers or experts would teach about it from that area.
They believe that in Croatia, sexual education is only carried out sporadically and as part of cross-curricular topics. Curriculums that touch on the topic of sexuality, they say, approach it very narrowly with an emphasis on the biological aspects.
Ministry: Sexuality topics are already covered in school
At the beginning of 2019, the relevant ministry included the cross-curricular topic Health for primary and secondary schools in the curriculum. Index asked the Ministry if they are thinking about expanding the curriculum when it comes to sex education. They said that topics related to sexuality are already covered in schools.
“Contents related to sexuality as a part of human life, preservation of sexual and reproductive health, responsible sexual behavior, sexually transmitted diseases are covered in schools, primarily in the compulsory cross-curricular topic of health, but also in Biology. The cross-curricular topic of health is implemented in all grades of primary and secondary school and is mandatory for all students”, the Ministry of Index replied.
However, before the introduction of the subject of Health in the curriculum, Croatia had the subject of Health Education in primary and secondary schools, but the Ministry abolished it and introduced the mentioned cross-curricular subject, which is carried out through various subjects, from biology to religious studies.
Associations in Rijeka believe that this is a step backward and that it is not enough for the students to only deal with this topic in individual subjects. For them, comprehensive sexual education empowers young people to become responsible citizens who are able to recognize and solve challenges related to sexuality.
A third of young people get information about sexual relations on the Internet
A big problem, they say, is the way in which children are informed about sexual relations. According to the research of the Child Protection Clinic of the City of Zagreb, young people mostly talk about sexual relations with their friends; more than a third of them get information via the Internet, while less than a quarter does so through a conversation with their parents and partners. Only 12% of young people learn about sex education at school and from educational materials.
According to UNESCO’s research from 2018, it was concluded that the impact of comprehensive sex education on children and young people is manifested in the reduction of risks related to sexual behavior, the recorded later stages of sexual relations, the reduction of the number of sexual partners, and the increased use of contraception.
School in Pula as an Example
Awareness of the sex education of children and young people within the educational system is growing in Croatian society. One example is a high school in Pula, which has been implementing a preventive program with first-grade high school students since 2006.
They are the first in Croatia to reduce the percentage of teenage pregnancies with lectures on sexual education and sexuality in adolescents. Adolescent sexuality is a part of the School Preventive Program, which is implemented in classroom lessons lasting 12 school hours. The program was initiated by the counselor Ljiljana Meščić Blažević and psychologist Davorka Glavina-Stanković.
“The main goal of the program is to inform and educate adolescents about reproductive health and human sexuality and the prevention of risky sexual behaviors. The program is realized through interactive work with students and includes methods of active learning, simulations, discussions, and conversations,” Ljiljana Meščić Blažević says. She added that the program has been successfully implemented for 16 years, and all generations find it interesting and useful in a large percentage.
Principal Žagar: Sex education should be introduced in the eighth grade
The initiative to introduce sex education as a compulsory separate subject in schools was signed two years ago by almost 13 thousand people, among whom was the director of the Medical School in Pula, Ivan Žagar, who believes that it is necessary to introduce sex education in Croatian schools in the higher grades of primary, and in secondary schools.
“School should not only serve to list facts from various subjects but should be more than that and should prepare children for life. Today, the issue of sexuality is imposed on children at the end of primary school, and especially through high school.
I think it would be much better for them to get information about these topics from someone who is educated on the topic, as opposed to collecting information from their friends or from the Internet,” Principal Žagar told Index. He is not optimistic about the cross-curricular topic of Health because he believes that it is not thoroughly implemented in every school.
“Today, that solution is no longer sufficient because not all teachers are qualified to teach it. Sex education should be introduced in the eighth grade of primary school. But I think that people here are still largely conservative, and I am not sure how much they would support the initiative and the introduction of sex education in Croatian schools. I think it’s all because of the conservative attitude of the Catholic Church, and the society as a whole, which is largely conservative,” Žagar concluded.
Rijeka first in Croatia to introduce health education in schools
Rijeka is once again the first in Croatia to introduce health education after civic education from the next school year, for elementary school students to learn from the 5th to the 8th grade.
The program is intended to be implemented in the form of extracurricular activities in upper grades of primary schools for 70 hours a year, the Administrative Department for Education, Culture, Sports and Youth of the City of Rijeka told Index.
“Learning and teaching within this extracurricular activity will be organized through four thematic areas – Healthy lifestyle, proper nutrition and physical activity; Mental health – emotional and social well-being of children and young people; Sexual and reproductive health and gender equality; and Prevention of addiction and risky behaviors. For each thematic unit, topics and related learning outcomes and the number of hours of implementation have been elaborated.
The curriculum itself brings proposals for learning and teaching methods and strategies for each thematic area, as well as proposals for student evaluation methods that are based exclusively on formative evaluation,” the Administrative Department said, adding that sexual education will be an integral part of the curriculum, covered by the thematic area Sexuality. and reproductive health and gender equality.
Sex education in Europe
When it comes to sex education, Croatia lags behind Europe. Two-thirds of European countries have resolved the issue of sex education in primary and secondary schools. Sweden is the first European country to introduce compulsory sex education, followed immediately by Germany. For twenty-two years, this subject has been compulsory in Finland, Norway, and France, while Denmark joined the list five years ago, but students are not obliged to take it.
In Ireland, sex stopped being a taboo topic in the 80s when they first introduced mandatory health education. In Great Britain, sex education exists in schools, but it is not compulsory. Only the biological content of health and sex education is mandatory and is taught to all children, while everything else about sex education is taught only to children whose parents want it.
Croatia is one of the nine countries of the European Union that has not included sex education in its curriculum. Those include Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovakia, Italy, and Spain, where young people do not have the opportunity to receive information about sexual education in all schools in the country.
In Croatia, the issue of sexual education in schools has been discussed for years, but so far, not a single action has been strong enough for the Ministry to include the subject in the school curriculum.