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Sex and sexualities education

Date of the exchange:
September 2019

Dublin City University, Ireland
York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

WTUN Exchange host Dr Jen Gilbert facilitated links with established researchers in the field of sex and sexualities education, all objectives within that aspect of the proposal were achieved/surpassed. Several more possibilities than anticipated were created in a series of meetings with six different researchers, all focusing in-depth on areas of interest/importance within the larger field. These exchange meetings allowed me, not only to find out first-hand about particular research studies, the processes involved and detailed findings, but also the nuances therein.

This generous, varied programme of research exchange has allowed me to have links with key field-researchers and to understand the deep structures that act as facilitators of, and barriers to, the implementation of sex and sexualities education in schools. Gaining an understanding of comparative context (Ontario, Canada with Ireland) was a main objective of the exchange to support my work as a teacher educator (with particular responsibility for educating teachers on the importance of Relationships and Sexualities Education for students with diverse learning characteristics and/or disabilities in Ireland). Exchange dialogue allowed me to ask questions and investigate links, differences, and similarities behind the findings and between the contexts in a way that would not be possible through desk research or conference attendance where agendas are time constrained. Many more resonances (than otherwise available) were found to exist between current developments in Ireland and recent changes in Ontario.

My own work and research to date in this field in Ireland was quite limited, yet I carry a particular responsibility within teacher education, so the chance to engage with experts at York University (and its local partners in this field) was an important and highly-efficient way (within a short timeframe) to ensure that my knowledge within a specialised-niche is well-founded, informed and contextualised.
Some immediate outcomes from this exchange are that I have been able to:

  1. participate in the major national review of Relationships and Sexuality Education Policy and Curriculum being conducted in Ireland at present; finding out about the recent developments in Ontario (especially the social and political contexts and the influence that these bring to educational practices) was very influential in this regard;
  2. revise the programme/modular content and delivery for teachers preparing to provide/support sex and sexualities education for students who have disabilities, cultural/learning differences or who are otherwise at particular risk of marginalisation therein. Exchange findings and researchers’ observations regarding the social-justice aspect of education, as this applies within sex and sexualities education throughout Ontario, were particularly helpful in this regard;
  3. undertake supervision of Master’s level research into minority student groups’ experiences of sex and sexualities education in Ireland’s Post Primary Schools.

This exchange can demonstrate the benefits of the WTUN, and it’s contribution to its vision for research, with direct benefits to people and society, providing education for global citizens who can respond to the world’s 21st-century challenges.

While my particular exchange is small-scale in terms of research, it is having an immediate impact on university work and a direct connection to students (both teacher-students at the university and their school pupils) and their development as citizens.

Initiatives in progress

The local initiative of providing teacher-education (in Relationships-and-Sexuality-Education for marginalised students who are known to have limited access to/opportunities within same) to a postgraduate group of 50 teachers resonates with nationally identified issues and international priorities. Nationally, students with special-educational-needs and LGBTI students are known to have lower wellbeing at school than other students, so emphasis on their relationships’ development and their lifelong healthy participation as citizens is an important response. This local emphasis has international significance/resonance at the intersection of Sustainable-Development-Goals 3, 4 and 10 regarding basic health-and-wellbeing, right to inclusivity and reduction of inequalities.

There may be future added value in opportunities for joint research, or further sharing of research based upon the WTUN links established during this exchange. These will be actively pursued when this partner has had the opportunity to spend more time in this particular field. The quality of knowledge and contribution has been greatly enhanced by the exchange and more may be possible if this niche can become a larger part of her overall workload.

Audrey Halpin, Dublin City University

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