Reaching Very Young Adolescents (VYAs): Advancing Program, Research and Evaluation Practices

Curriculum-based approaches use written, strategically designed and sequenced lesson plans featuring instruction, materials and learning activities. Curriculum-based approaches are widely used by a variety of organizations worldwide to reach youth both within and outside of school. Because such programs provide standardized content and approaches, curriculum-based programs have a stronger potential for scale up than less structured programs. While there has been a small base of people and organizations committed to the expansion of SRH-related programs for VYAs, the last international meeting on the topic was held in the early 2000s. Since that time, a growing number of organizations have started working with VYAs. Focus is starting to shift towards working with girls and boys to transform gender-related attitudes and behaviors in order to establish sound foundations for their future lives. Since the last meeting, several important guidance documents have been published on developing curriculum-based programs for 9-14 year olds, including the 2009 UNESCO technical guidance on sexuality education in schools and several meta-analyses of adolescent HIV prevention programs. These evidence-based guidance documents indicate what is working programmatically to establish foundations of knowledge, agency and social or gendered understandings of puberty. In turn, such foundations can lead to improved health and well-being and to reduced risks to sexual and reproductive health. While the evidence and program base is growing, many in our international health community may not be aware of these recent developments. Building on past meetings, the 2010 technical consultation provided an opportunity to advance much-needed programs working with this developmentally-pivotal yet often neglected age group.

Institute for Reproductive Health, Georgetown University