A lack of knowledge about sex is posing a risk to the health and education of adolescents, according to the Ministry of Education, which has created an online program to help better inform and equip the young people who make up 60 per cent of Cambodia’s population.
Developed in partnership with NGO OneWorld UK, the pilot program “Smart Youth Good Future” was rolled-out in 2014 across 24 schools in eight provinces as well as in Phnom Penh, with the findings from its one-year implementation released by the ministry on Friday.
Kaing Sanary, a project officer on Smart Youth Good Future, said that the first year of the program, which has reached almost 10,000 Cambodians in and outside of schools and has seen nearly 20,000 questions submitted, has yielded positive results.
“[Young people] can learn directly online, sending their questions via mobile or computer and then the doctor or experts will reply in secret to them,” she explained, noting that modules from the program have also been made available to garment factory workers in Phnom Penh.
Cambodia is the sixth country in the world to implement the program and the first in Southeast Asia.
Approximately 32 per cent of Cambodians are under 15 years of age, and among the 13- to 15-year-olds surveyed during the pilot, some 13 per cent are already sexually active. Despite this, there is little knowledge about sexual or reproductive health, say officials from the ministry who have sponsored the e-learning system specifically designed to redress this gap.
“They are very young, but some of them are in a hurry to have sex which can affect their education,” said Kim Sethany, secretary at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. “That is why the project aims to inform them via the internet and mobile phone services.”
The project consists of a skills curriculum and web-based question-and-answer system that can be accessed via a range of devices, with the stated aim of engaging young people on subjects such as contraception, sex before marriage, unsafe abortion and sexually transmitted diseases in a non-judgmental, confidential and accurate manner.
As Sethany explained, such an outlet is all the more crucial given Cambodia’s cultural context in which young people rarely dare to seek related advice from professionals, putting young girls in particular at risk.