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The place of sexuality education in schools

Sexuality education occurs in two distinct but overlapping areas of the school:

  1. Through the learning area of health and physical education (within The New Zealand Curriculum)
  2. Across the wider school.

This diagram shows both areas are valued and integrated from years 1–13. 

Sexuality education programmes in curriculum time and across the school need to link explicitly with the vision, values, principles, and key competencies of The New Zealand Curriculum (2007).

Sexuality can be viewed differently according to people’s social and cultural contexts. Teachers can help students to think critically about sexuality and include diverse concepts and content in their teaching. Including knowledge from Pākehā, Māori, Pasifika, Asian, and other world views can enhance the knowledge and understanding of all students. 

Hauora and sexuality

The health and physical education learning area incorporates Mason Durie’s (1994) Te Whare Tapa Whā concept of hauora. This concept reflects a Māori view of well-being: 

  • Hauora means "the breath (or the essence) which sustains life" (Moorefield, 2003–2014).
  • Achieving hauora, or the good life, requires a careful balancing of the physical, spiritual, emotional, social, environmental, and relational elements that determine the well-being of individuals and collectives. Relational means how the elements of hauora are interrelated and how hauora is always relational (within and across contexts).
  • Sexuality is an element of hauora. Students who are supported in regard to their sexuality are more likely to have better overall health, which in turn supports their success at school and strengthens relationships with whānau and friends.
  • Māori understandings of health and well-being are often described as holistic because they go beyond the health of the physical body to include spiritual, emotional, social, environmental, and relational elements and draw upon notions of collective well-being.

In addition to the Tapa Whā model, other models that may be helpful when considering hauora, sexuality, and relationships include, but are not limited to: Te Pae Mahutonga (Durie, 1999), Te Wheke (Ministry of Health, 2012), the Powhiri Model (Waretine-Karena, 2014), Te Uruuru Mai a Hauora (Ratima, 2001), the Waka model (Kerr, 2013) of whānau, hapū, and iwi health; and the Wero (that is, the process of engagement between visitors and hosts can be a model for teaching respectful and safe processes for entering new relationships). 

Pasifika concepts of sexuality

Pasifika communities in New Zealand are a diverse and growing population. The largest groups in New Zealand include those who identify with one or more of: Samoa, Tonga, The Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, Tuvalu and Fiji (MacPherson et al 2000; Statistics New Zealand and Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs, 2010). It is important to keep in mind that the term “Pasifika” does not describe a single homogenous group, but a broad grouping with similarities and subtle, but important, differences (including those born in New Zealand or elsewhere). While these cultures are diverse, there are some common features, particularly in holistic approaches to health and well-being. Pasifika models of health “demonstrate the unique worldviews of Pasifika peoples, where notions of ‘holism’, ‘well-being’ and ‘relationships’ prominently feature” (Veukiso-Ulugia, 2013, p. 3). Veukiso-Ulugia (2013, p. 21) identifies several values that are common to Pasifika communities. These include:

  • Sacred bonds (Tapu)
  • Love and compassion (Alofa)
  • Reciprocal service (Tautua)
  • Respect and deference (Fa’aaloalo)
  • Humility (Fa’amaualalo)
  • Family (Aiga)
  • Spirituality
  • Honour 
  • Relationships

A range of health-related other models could be useful in sexuality education programmes (for a full list of models see Veukiso-Ulugia, 2013, p. 3). Some include:

  • Fonofale model (Pulotu-Endemann) – Samoan
  • Kakala model (Helu Thaman) – Tongan
  • Tivaevae (Maua-Hodges) – Cook Island

While no model is common to every Pasifika community, the Fonofale model (Pulotu-Endemann, 2001) may be a starting point: 

The Fonofale model incorporates the metaphor of a Samoan house where the foundation, floor posts, and roof are encapsulated in a circle to promote the philosophy of holism and continuity. This model is a dynamic model because all aspects depicted have an interactive relationship with each other.

For a full list of models see the 2013 literature review (Veukiso-Ulugia, A., listed in References, links, and support) on the key components of appropriate models and approaches to deliver sexual and reproductive health promotion to Pasifika peoples in Aotearoa New Zealand. 

The foundation of the Fonofale represents the family, the basis for all Pacific Island cultures. The roof represents cultural values and beliefs that shelter the family for life. Culture is dynamic and, therefore, constantly evolving and adapting. The four pou between the roof and the foundation represent the four dimensions:

  • Spiritual – This dimension relates to the sense of well-being, which stems from a belief system that includes either Christianity or traditional spirituality relating to nature, spirits, language, beliefs, ancestors and history, or a combination of both.
  • Physical – This dimension relates to biological or physical well-being. It encompasses the body, which comprises anatomy and physiology, as well as physical or organic and inorganic substances such as food, water, air, and medications that can have either positive or negative impacts on physical well-being.
  • Mental – This dimension relates to the well-being or the health of the mind, which involves thinking and emotions, as well as behaviour.
  • Other – This dimension relates to variables that can directly or indirectly affect health, such as, but not limited to, gender, sexuality/sexual orientation, age, and socio-economic status.

The Fonofale is encapsulated in a cocoon or circle that contains dimensions such as environment, time, and context that have a direct or indirect influence on one another (Pulotu-Endemann, 2001).

Equity and sexual and gender diversity

Sexuality education in New Zealand schools supports and acknowledges diversity among students. Schools are encouraged to question gender stereotypes and assumptions about sexuality. There are opportunities within school programmes and the wider school environment to acknowledge the sexual diversity of New Zealand communities and recognise the rights of those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and other sexual and gender identities. Diverse views of sexuality also need to be supported. The New Zealand Curriculum is underpinned by values of diversity, equity, and respect and recognises human rights. These values ensure the rights of all students to self expression, identification, and support. Sexuality education is based on these values.

In upholding the values of The New Zealand Curriculum, schools will also reflect the values and goals of the local communities that they serve. Approaches to sexuality education may differ according to school character, community, and location. 


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