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Before she went to study in Beijing's Renmin University of China, 21-year-old Zhang Xin knew almost nothing about sex.

But now she is in charge of a campaign on adolescent reproductive health education there and is one of a number of student instructors teaching their fellow students.

The change was initiated when Zhang, from Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, attended a class on adolescent reproductive health in her first year at the university in 2001. The class was part of the campaign, which started in 2000.

The two teachers taking the class - one male and the other female - were also students at the university.

Zhang recalled: "I became deeply interested in the topic and the way in which it was taught."

In junior and senior high school, the teachers just jumped over the pages about sex and reproductive health, she said.

Young people have a very limited range of sources to find out about sex, Zhang added.

Third-year student Hang Can, who is also one of the sex education instructors, said peer education - whereby students teach other students - lets everyone attending the classes feel more relaxed.

"We (the teachers and students) are the same age and that makes a difference," said 21-year-old Hang, who is from Southwest China's Sichuan Province.

Interchange between fellow students is much easier than that between students and older teachers, she said.

"At the classes, we tell our fellow students that knowledge about sex and reproductive health is necessary for us... We must look upon such knowledge reasonably, rather than feeling shy about talking about it," Hang said.

"Maybe we cannot teach too much in one or two classes, but what we can teach is the right way to look at sex," she added.

"Before the peer education system, it was impossible for students of both sexes to talk together about topics such as premarital sex," she said.

But now such discussions have become a natural thing, she added.

Hang and the other student instructors were also invited to give classes at other universities in Beijing, such as Tsinghua University.

"We were warmly welcomed there," she said.

Peer education on sex and reproductive health was launched in 2000 with the help of the China Family Planning Association. A pilot programme was implemented in Renmin University of China and several high schools in Shanghai, said Liu Yongfeng, director of the association's Department for International Co-operation.

However, the programme has not been widely implemented, he said. It has only been adopted by the pilot schools so far.

"On the whole, education on sex and reproductive health for children and young people is at a very low level in China," he said.

The basic reason is that most adults, due to tradition, are reluctant to teach young people such knowledge.

(China Daily 07/11/2003 page3)


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