Assessing young people’s learning needs related to sexuality and relationships on the Maltese Islands
University of Southampton, School of Education,
This research explored young people’s learning needs related to sexuality and relationships within
the current rapidly changing social, cultural and religious context of the Maltese Islands. It also
explored the challenges, opportunities and alternative means by which these needs can be met. A
definitional matrix for needs assessment that adopts a sociological perspective to people’s needs,
which is widely used in health promotion, was employed. This thesis was framed around the
underlying principles of youth involvement, participation and empowerment, and thus emphasised
young people’s own perspective of their learning needs.
The mixed-methodology approach was adopted in this research. The first stage of investigation
sought to achieve an overview of sexual behaviour and knowledge among young Maltese people
aged 14 - 16 attending secondary schools. A stratified random sample of 1310 pupils (68% response
rate) provided a first-ever snapshot of young people’s sexual behaviour in Malta. The second stage
sought to explore young people’s felt and expressed learning needs within and outside the school
setting by way of sixteen focus groups involving another 166 pupils.
Findings suggest a relatively low rate of pupils who would have practiced sexual intercourse by
school-leaving age in Malta (12.3%). Mean age at first intercourse seems similar to that of other
European countries (14 years) for both genders. Only a fifth used condoms every time they had sex.
Knowledge of STIs was scant. The pupils were more informed about HIV. Girls were more
knowledgeable. Boys had sex with more sexual partners. No gender differences were noted in
substance abuse with sex. Discussions among pupils revealed a high degree of perceived unmet
learning need. Participants valued highly learning about sexuality but thought it received much less
attention than their other academic learning needs. Disparities between schools were evidenced.
Learning was sporadic and uncoordinated with conflicting messages from different teachers. Often
sessions started timely to pupils’ needs, but ended prematurely. Learning from parents was scanty
and associated with the overall relationship and bonding between parents and the child. Gaps were
noted between perceived ideal sources (teachers, parents and visiting speakers) and actual /
preferred sources (friends and the media). Needs were perceived in relation to the content and
timing of learning, sources of knowledge, learning styles and resources. Maltese pupils had diverse
values and called for a variety of approaches.
Recommendations were made for a national sexuality education policy to standardize the
framework of sexuality education among Maltese schools; more initial teacher training and inservice
training in sexuality education to meet the needs of a diverse group of adolescents through
various approaches; more collaboration among teachers within schools; parenting skills and lifelong
learning opportunities for parents; more active involvement of adolescents and a wider
consultation with schools and families in the evaluation of sexuality education.
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