Initial findings of HIV Scotland's education survey

Back to news & events

Tuesday 20th March 2018

The UN defines comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) as a rights-based and gender-focused approach to sexuality education, whether in school or out of school, and states that effective CSE is critical in equipping young learners with accurate, age- and developmentally-appropriate sexual health information that is aligned with the contemporary needs of young people.

Over the last 15 years (2002 – 2016), a total of 527 reports of HIV infection among 15 – 24 year olds have been recorded in Scotland. Yet, despite an extensive understanding of the epidemiology of HIV and the availability of highly effective treatment, young people still bear a disproportionate burden of HIV infection. Following HIV Scotland’s recent report on HIV and Education: Guaranteeing Lessons for All, which delves into how relationship, sexual health, and parenthood (RSHP) lessons are delivered across Scotland, we conducted a large-scale survey where 2806 students between 12 and 18 across Scotland answered questions on their knowledge of HIV and attitudes of RSHP lessons.

A preliminary analysis of the results revealed two areas where improvements to RSHP education could be made: improving the delivery of sexual health messages by teachers and modernising CSE content to meet the needs of young people today.

Delivery of sexual health information is as important as the content being conveyed. According to UNESCO, effective CSE necessitates key teaching objectives, the development of learning objectives, the presentation of concepts, and the delivery of clear, key messages in a structured way. Our survey shows that a large proportion (48.23%) of students responded that they receive their sexual health information from teachers, highlighting the importance of effective delivery of sexual health content. Yet, despite this, over a third of students rated their teacher’s confidence in communicating sexual topics as marginally confident and 6.34% rated their teachers as not at all confident.

CSE provides opportunities for young learners to acquire comprehensive, accurate, evidence-informed and age-appropriate information on a range of topics that are important to live full and healthy lives. Unfortunately, 72% of students rated their knowledge of HIV prevention and transmission as insufficient or non-existent. Over a quarter of respondents reported that their sexual health education did not provide them with the knowledge of where to access sexual health services, yet 82% stated they would use services if the need arose.

In Scotland, it is clear that HIV continues to be a public health challenge for young people. Without access to accurate knowledge of HIV, young people are likely to have unrealistically low perceptions of their risk to HIV and to be less inclined to protect themselves from acquiring the infection and other STIs. HIV Scotland is contextualising the sexual health education landscape in order to ensure that the contemporary needs of young people are met. In the next few months HIV Scotland will be publishing a full report on the results of our survey which will help contextualise any future interventions to Scotland.

For more information, please contact Jeffrey Hirono, HIV Scotland’s Policy and Research Officer.