The World Starts With Me (WSWM) is a computer-based, rights-based, comprehensive sexuality education programme for in- and out-of-school youth. It was developed in Uganda in 2003 by Rutgers WPF in collaboration with Butterfly Works, SchoolNet Uganda and teachers and students of pilot schools. Now, it is being used by numerous schools and youth clubs in a number of countries in Africa and Asia.
WSWM is an innovative curriculum on sexual and reproductive health and rights, which is available on CD-ROM, the internet and in print. It combines SRHR education with building IT skills and creative expression. With WSWM, we aim to contribute not only to the improvement of the sexual and reproductive health of young people, but also to their social and economic development.
WSWM targets in- and out-of-school youth in the age bracket of 12-19 years in Uganda, Kenya, Thailand, Indonesia, Papua (a part of Indonesia), Vietnam, Pakistan, Ethiopia. In each country, one coordinating implementing agency worked with a group of young people and teachers in contextualising the content and didactics, based on a local situation analysis and needs assessment. Thus, each group adapted the images and texts of the programme to their local situation and needs. We are currently rolling out this methodology in Ghana. In 2013, Malawi, Zambia and possibly Congo will be added to the list.
For instance, WSWM is being taught in high schools in Uganda, Kenya, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, in primary schools in Uganda and in schools for blind and deaf youth in Indonesia. WSWM programmes for out-of-school youth target for instance young people in informal settings (slums) in Kenya, in correctional institutes/youth prisons in Indonesia, and children born with HIV and young positives in counselling centres in Uganda.
In the WSWM programme, virtual peer educators guide young people through a learning process, thus relieving teachers and other educators of the task to initiate sensitive discussions. The 14 lessons start with building self-esteem, exploring personal values and norms and gaining insight in one's emotional and sexual development in order to make well-informed decisions.
The next sections address the social environment: relationships with parents, friends and peers; gender equity; and sexual and reproductive rights. Then, we focus on sexual health issues such as unintended pregnancy, STIs/HIV, AIDS stigma, sexual harassment and abuse, while keeping a positive view on sexuality.
With its positive, explicit, rights-based approach towards sexuality WSWM proves to be an effective and attractive tool, adaptable to different countries, cultures and settings. A cross-cultural evaluation that was done in 2009 among more than 9,000 young people in Uganda, Kenya, Indonesia and Thailand showed some significant effects. These included:
- Increased knowledge and risk perception
- Intention to abstain from sex
- Intention to avoid forced sex
- Positive attitudes towards condoms
- Self-confidence in condom use in the future
- The intention to consult health services when needed
Appreciation and concerns
Feedback in recent years indicates that students and teachers experience WSWM as a complete, thoroughly developed tool, that is highly appreciated by young people and easy to use by teachers. WSWM is also globally appreciated. The programme won the Global Nica Award in 2004, a prestigious annual prize for electronic art, digital community, culture and music. It is recommended by the International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education of UNESCO as a model programme for comprehensive sexuality education.
However, there are also problems involved in the implementation of such a comprehensive sexuality education programme for young people, touching upon sensitive issues as premarital sex, condoms, sexual diversity and abortion. Often teachers feel uncomfortable about teaching this subject or - contrary to research findings - they assume that parents would oppose this type of education. Some therefore decide to limit their teaching to only parts of the lessons. Furthermore, as WSWM is commonly taught as an extra-curricular activity, teachers experience more difficulties finding the right time and place for it. They also need a huge intrinsic motivation, as they carry out this task in their free time.
Making this tool available to as many young people as possible requires upscaling within countries and roll-out to other countries. In 2013, we will roll-out this tool to Malawi and Ghana and scale it up in Kenya and Uganda.
With local partners we will develop a model and define guidelines for scaling up WSWM in these two countries with questions such as: Should we focus on more students in each participating school or on adoption of the tool by new schools? How can we improve our training for teachers in order to prevent incomplete or incorrect implementation of the programme (e.g., a focus on abstinence only or skipping role-plays, which is the best didactical method for skills training). But also: How to guarantee sustainability? Is the best strategy then to give ownership on sexuality education to the whole school, the community, parents and/or health services? And what is the 'minimum package' that should be available in any school for effective implementation? Rutgers WPF is currently studying the minimum conditions for scaling up in Kenya and Uganda and hopes to come up with a model for scaling up in 2014.
In each new WSWM country, the programme has to be tailored to the local context and needs. Important questions are: What core elements relating to the programme’s effectiveness need to be kept, and what changes are necessary to enhance acceptance in the new cultural context and for a new priority group? The adaptation from the Ugandan pilot programme into the first Indonesian programme was thoroughly monitored, and documented in the article Using Intervention Mapping for systematic adaptation of SRHR education for young people (2011). Intervention Mapping, a protocol for the development of evidence-based behaviour change interventions, has proven to be a useful approach for systematically addressing the complexity and challenges of programme adaptation.
- The World Starts With Me! (WSWM), for secondary schools: www.theworldstarts.org
- A Positive World Starts With Me (WSWM+), for young people born with HIV and other young positives
- My World, My Life (MWML), the paper-based WSWM version for upper primary schools
- DAKU! Dunia Remajaku Seru, for secondary schools
- MAJU!, for special education schools for deaf youth
- Langhka Pastiku!, for special education schools for blind youth
- SERU!, for juvenile correction institutes (youth prisons)
- The World Starts With Me!, for secondary schools and disadvantaged (slum) youth
- The world turns by my hands!, for secondary schools in Bangkok
- Journey to Adulthood, for the Teacher Training University Students of Danang University of Education
- The Teenage World & Equipped for Life, for respectively upper primary schools and secondary schools
- If you're curious about the lessons, check out the Ugandan WSWM site to get insight in a part of the curriculum.
- WSWM: contact Laura van Lee, technical advisor at Rutgers WPF
- My World, My Life: contact Sanderijn van der Doef, technical advisor at Rutgers WPF
- A Positive World Starts With Me: contact Jo Reinders, technical advisor at Rutgers WPF