University of Canterbury is currently developing Aotearoa’s first Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) application.
The app ‘Te Puāwaitanga: Beyond the Birds and Bees’ will act as a comprehensive guide that allows young New Zealanders to access information regarding sexuality, gender identity, sexual and reproductive health, and healthy relationships. The RSE provided by the app will have an emphasis on Aotearoa-specific information, and give an interactive platform to access RSE safely.
The project team consists of Jessica McQuoid, Tracy Clelland, Cate Mentink, Dr. Fabian Gilson, and Dr. Adrian Clark. Jessica McQuoid is the Project Director for the RSE app and says, “We see this app becoming an invaluable resource for rangatahi in Aotearoa by providing quality and localised content that will empower them to discover who they are as individuals, and build and maintain happy, healthy relationships with others throughout their lives.” Currently, there are no culturally appropriate RSE resources aimed at people aged 13-29.
In 2021 the app pitch received the Social Impact award at the Innovation JumpStart competition which gave the development team a monetary prize to put towards the project, along with confirmation of funding from Pegasus Health. The app development is still seeking additional funding, as they intend to keep the app as a free download and are operating as a social enterprise.
Official development of the app began during the first week of March, and the team are reaching the end of their first two-week intensive app development. The concept of the app is based on ‘Sense,’ an app accessible via a website that was developed in the Netherlands, which produced RSE in an interactive and inclusive format. The key focus for the Te Puāwaitanga developers is to develop the interactive content. Educational videos and flashcards will be implemented into the app, with some videos giving personal anecdotes of people’s experience with romantic relationships, gender identity, and sexuality.
RSE is currently integrated into the New Zealand Curriculum, usually explored in Health and Physical Education classes. In 2020, the Ministry of Education released an updated resource guide for teachers to make the curriculum more diverse and inclusive of different types and aspects of a relationship. The news article on the Ministry of Education website specifically referenced “shifting societal norms relating to sexuality and gender diversity” as one of the main focuses of the revision. The app aims to develop on this concept by drawing “on as much experience and expertise as possible, both from rangatahi and youth health experts and educators alike, to ensure what we create is relevant to, and representative of our rangatahi, and the world they are navigating today.”
However, the app developers are concerned that sexuality and relationship-based conversations are still seen as taboo in many households, and there is an absence of confidence when attempting to engage in these conversations. For students at a tertiary level who are looking for support, the University of Auckland offers LGBTQITakatāpui+, a student and staff network to meet other members of the rainbow community, and gender-neutral bathrooms are available on campus. The University also offers to cover the cost of legal name changes for transgender and gender-diverse students, conditional to them meeting the Equity Office’s eligibility criteria.
Aside from institutional support, RainbowYOUTH offers support to anyone up to 27 years of age who is part of the LGBTIQ+ community, and additional support groups can be found on the Heart & Minds webpage under the LGBTQ+ section. The app should provide a more accessible platform for information and support once development is complete.