In July 2020, we had the pleasure of meeting Gabriela and Paola from ESI In English. They wanted to interview us about Raise Up! as they had bought our books and felt a connection with their own objectives. As we learned more about them, we became inspired by their project and wanted to learn more about what they are doing…
- Please introduce yourselves and tell us how you met.
We’re Gabriela Brun and Paola Cossu. We’re both teachers of English, teacher educators and Comprehensive Sexuality Education advocators. We’ve been teaching for more than 15 years. We’re based in Junin, a town in the north-west of Buenos Aires province in Argentina. We are also friends and we met at the teachers’ training college where we teach different subjects.
2. You work with Comprehensive Sexuality Education. Can you explain what that means in Argentina?
In Argentina, the Comprehensive Sexuality Education Law ( Nº 26,150 ) was passed in 2006 and it establishes the right of all students, at all levels, to receive CSE in all educational institutions, both private and state-run. According to the law, CSE involves biological, psychological, social, affective and ethical aspects and it cannot be understood without reference to gender, being diversity a fundamental characteristic of sexuality. Traditionally, students have had lessons on Sexuality Education topics such as anatomy, reproduction and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Now that the word comprehensive has been added, the focus is on equipping students with tools to develop critical thinking and make informed decisions, empowering them to become active citizens. It builds the skills and attitudes necessary to treat others with respect and empathy, regardless of their race, social or economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics. So CSE goes beyond a biological standpoint and includes a wider range of topics, such as relationships, rights, gender violence, women’s empowerment throughout history and gender diversity, among other things.
Additionally, the CSE programme in Argentina features five intertwined axes which ensure an integral approach to all human dimensions:
- ● Acknowledge gender perspectives
- ● Respect diversity
- ● Value affectivity
- ● Exercise our rights
- ● Take care of the body
3- What motivated you to start ESI In English?
We’ve been teaching with a focus on CSE for quite some time now and we’ve always been keen on sharing CSE content on our social media accounts. Towards the end of 2018 Dr Dario Banegas kindly invited us to deliver a workshop on CSE in the context of a two-day CPD seminar for pre-service and in-service teachers of English in the south of Argentina. We felt really comfortable and we were so happy with the results that we decided to do this more systematically. That is how ESI in English was born. ESI stands for Educación Sexual Integral, or Comprehensive Sexuality Education in English. We first started sharing some content online and then we added workshops in many teachers’ training colleges in different cities, webinars and we also presented in various conferences.
4. What are your aims and what do you offer to teachers?
Our main aim is to make CSE reach more and more teachers and classrooms in our context and beyond. We believe that ultimately bringing CSE into our classrooms is a matter of social justice and will eventually lead to social transformation. In other words, CSE not only impacts our classrooms but the community in which these classrooms are embedded and society in general. We teachers and our students have agency, which means that we can do things to bring about the changes we want to see.
Bearing this in mind, we understand that knowing about a certain topic is not enough (though it is a necessary starting point). We need to put this knowledge into practice and that is why in our workshops we offer both an insight into the main aspects of CSE as well as practical guidelines, resources and ideas about how to meaningfully integrate CSE into our lessons.
This year we were planning to continue delivering these workshops but the COVID-19 pandemic has made us reinvent ourselves and that’s why now we are carrying out a series of interviews with various specialists in the different topics that CSE deals with. So far, we have had really interesting and thought-provoking chats with Jayneen Sanders (author of children’s books about consent and body boundaries), Sergio Durand (Othering in ELT), Heloisa Duarte (Ageism in ELT) , Joshua Paiz (Queering ELT), Darío Banegas (Content and Language Integrated Learning and CSE) and, of course, Ilá Coimbra and James Taylor from Raise Up! with whom we had a very enriching talk about diversity in ELT materials.
5. How would you describe the situation in Argentina?
Even though the CSE law was passed in 2006, several other laws were passed later on that came to enrich the CSE program, including Law 26,485 Comprehensive Protection of Women, Law 26,618 Civil Marriage (same-sex marriage), and Law 26,743 Gender Identity. However, we must acknowledge the fact that it was two specific feminist movements, namely Ni Una Menos (Not One [Woman] Less) and the Marea Verde (Green Tide) which brought CSE into the spotlight. The first movement, Ni Una Menos, advocates to end violence against women and girls, while the Green Tide movement demands the legalization of Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancies.
These issues can be framed within one or more of the axes we mentioned before and have become two of the most highly demanded topics by students, especially at secondary school. However, there are also some groups and organizations, many of which are related to the Catholic Church, which are against the inclusion of CSE at schools. One example is the movement Con Mis Hijos No Te Metas (Don’t Mess With My Kids), which among other things, believe their children should not be exposed to gender diversity.
In some of the workshops and webinars we have delivered, attendees mentioned that this was one of the few opportunities of professional development in which they had dealt with CSE in both a theoretical and practical way. This shows that more CPD (Continuous Professional Development) is needed, especially instances to deal with practical and meaningful ways to integrate CSE into the language classrooms. The way we see it, we have come a long way but there’s still a lot to be done, not only to bring CSE into more and more classrooms but to deal with it more systematically and deeply. At the end of the day, as Graciela Morgade* says, CSE makes school fairer and more interesting.
6. What do you think about ELT materials and how they meet your aims (or don’t)?
We think that there is an under-representation, and sometimes misrepresentation, of certain groups such as LGBTQ people, older adults, migrants and women, among others. Also, some CSE content is considered controversial by the industry and falls into the category of PARSNIP, which are topics that the majority of textbooks avoid. Definitely, this material does not meet our aims but we think that teachers can (and sometimes should) supplement it with other material and tasks. Another possibility is to create our own material which, we know, can be time consuming but worth the effort. Fortunately, there are people who are doing something to bring about this much-needed change in the field of ELT materials. We’re strongly supportive of the Raise Up! books and the whole project in which so many talented and socially-committed people are involved.
7. What are your plans for the future?
For the time being, as long as the lockdown continues and we remain working from home, we plan to continue with our interviews . Also, we’ve scheduled some webinars to replace the workshops we deliver at the different institutions. In our free time we’re writing contributions for some journals. No matter how, whether it is online or face-to-face, our main aim remains the same: to bring CSE to more teachers in order to help create a better, more equitable and inclusive world.
*Graciela Morgade was Dean of the School of Philosophy and Literature, Buenos Aires University (UBA). She holds a PhD in Education. She teaches the seminar Education, Gender and Sexualities at UBA and the virtual seminar Gender Relations and Educational Policies at CLACSO. She is a researcher and specialist in sexual education with a focus on gender and human rights.