We’re very happy to introduce you to Silvana and Romina, the inspiring duo behind Hello ESI. Based in Argentina, they are advocates for Comprehensive Sexuality Education and they were kind enough to interview us in July 2020. We’re delighted now to return the favour and give them the opportunity to tell you about their work.
1) Please introduce yourselves and tell us how you met.
We are Silvana Accardo and Romina Mangini, we are both EFL Teachers who work in private, cooperative and state-run schools in the City of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Together we cover preschool, primary, secondary and tertiary level. We are both enthusiastic and eager learners and advocates of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE). We understand ourselves as more than teachers of a language and a culture. We believe we are educators and agents of change, and as such, we are socially responsible for how and what we teach in our lessons. We met about eight years ago when we were both working as EFL teachers in a language school near our homes. We stopped working there eventually but we kept in touch and in 2018 we met again to tell and show each other the materials and resources we were trying to use in our lessons to include contents of CSE. That is when our project Hello ESI basically began.
2. You work with Comprehensive Sexuality Education. Can you explain what that means in Argentina?
Comprehensive Sexuality Education -CSE- (Educación Sexual Integral -ESI- in Spanish) is both a national law and program, passed through Congress in the year 2006, which main objectives are to incorporate CSE in all educational proposals, to transmit relevant, accurate, trustworthy and updated knowledge, to promote responsible attitudes towards sexuality, to prevent problems of health and to seek equal opportunities for men and women. These were the main objectives of this law and program. In 2008, CSE curricular guidelines were created to specify and suggest the contents that should be developed at each level and from different areas or subjects. Today all educators in Argentina should know that, basically, there are five axes around which we should teach CSE: (1) recognition and inclusion of gender perspective, (2) respect for diversity, (3) value of affectivity, (4) exercise of sexual and reproductive rights, and (5) body and health care. With these axes in mind we should design, adapt or include appropriate materials in our lessons.
3. What motivated you to start Hello ESI?
We realised that there was no genuinely “talking” about CSE in EFL lessons, materials, training courses or seminars. However, we noticed that mostly through literature we could include many of the contents that the CSE curricular guidelines suggest at each level (e.g. different family configurations, different gaming and toys possibilities, different jobs and occupations possibilities, awareness and appreciation of human diversity and societies transformations, human rights and the right to claim an identity, among others). So, we started searching, evaluating and buying more and more children’s books that we considered could help us teach all (or at least, a good amount) of these contents and designing workshops that allowed teachers to explore such materials and provide ways of working with them.
Later, we realised these materials were not enough to cover the demand of teachers that worked with, for example, adolescents and young adults. Then, we started searching, curating and sharing other types of resources we found, such as poetry, novels, short stories, songs, video-clips, short films, films, commercials, etc. And that’s how Hello ESI started growing and growing. Not so much because of us, but because there is a need from the part of teachers, and society in general, to talk and incorporate CSE in their lives and not only at schools.
4. What are your aims and what do you offer to teachers?
As we consider that CSE must be taught transversally through all areas at school, with a gender, human rights and social justice perspective, we aim at expanding CSE throughout all languages and subjects, in order to generate debates that enrich our profession while, and the same time, we keep providing tools and resources that help teachers and future teachers implement and incorporate CSE effectively. Language is a very powerful tool. So, we aim at inviting teachers with every post we make or material we share to think about what and how they teach, so that we never forget to critically analyse our practices. We offer teachers easy access to documents, tools and resources, and we also offer help, advice and training, if necessary.
5. How would you describe the situation in Argentina?
Although there is a National law since 2006, not all provinces have adopted the law. What is more, not all schools apply it. We keep facing resistance from some groups of society, families or religious institutions. Recently, a teacher that works in a state-run secondary school in Buenos Aires almost loses his job because one family complained about a CSE content he taught in his class. We still have a long way to go. However, younger generations, including our own students, are the ones that mostly demand the enforcement of the law and that CSE contents be present and taught in their classes. And more and more teachers and trainees want to implement CSE in their lessons. So there is a very shiny light at the end of the tunnel…
6. What do you think about ELT materials and how they meet your aims (or don’t)?
In our view, ELT materials have, generally speaking, a very global approach but, most importantly, we feel and think they are conceived and produced to satisfy the demand of a middle and upper global class that may be very far from the reality that lower, working classes and local communities have. In fact, we could say that many materials serve a certain status quo by reinforcing gender, social and economic inequalities, especially through the content that some reading and listening activities provide, or the characters or avatars that a series follows.
Our main observation is that there is a lack of visibility of other groups of people, such as minority or ethnic groups, the elderly, people with disabilities, etc., and there is a lack of diversity in general: diverse bodies, diverse families, diverse sexualities, diverse possibilities of being, feeling, doing… There is, as well, a lack of thinking why the world is as such, why there is poverty, why there are countries and people with so much power, privileges and richness. There is a lack of social compromise.
7. What are your plans for the future?
For the future, we would like to keep offering workshops and seminars so as to continue sharing materials, resources and ideas. We want more teachers to join us and be advocates of inclusion, representation, diversity, equality and social justice. We would also like to go on expanding and building networks with teachers all over our country, Latin America and (why not?) the rest of the world, and we want to take CSE to all subjects of the teacher training college, as there are the seeds for future change.
Many thanks to Silvana and Romina for their interview. Stay in touch with them on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.