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Friday, April 23, 2010

Define boundaries for sex education

IT is heartening to know that the Education Ministry is mulling over the proposal to introduce sex education in schools. Our students will surely benefit much from such a move. What is important here is to think through thoroughly on how the subject is to be imparted to students in schools.

There is no doubt that the ministry has qualified and expert personnel to draw up the relevant curriculum and syllabus and write the necessary texts and modules. Schools will be asked to send teachers to attend short in-service exposure courses. After that, they will shoulder the responsibility of imparting the knowledge to their students.

This is the normal and proven procedure whenever a new subject is introduced. But, sex education is different as it is a sensitive and even controversial subject. Teachers entrusted with the task should be well versed with the cognitive contents of the subject.

Besides, they should also have the maturity, experience and professionalism in handling and giving counsel on emotional, physical as well as spiritual aspects that may arise. This is quite a tall order even for experienced teachers.

The reality is that most schools will send teachers whose personal teaching time-tables are not yet full for such courses. These teachers normally teach a number of the “not so important” subjects; they are the “general” teachers, at least for the duration of the particular school year. The “specialist” teachers, on the other hand, would already have their teaching time-tables filled to the brim.

They are in charge of examination subjects for students in examination classes. Schools cannot afford to spare them to teach subjects like sex education, which most likely will not be an examination subject. So, given the noble aims of sex education and that it is the schools’ inescapable responsibility to teach it, aren’t our schools in a Catch-22 situation?

If sex education is to be implemented, then at the early stage, the ministry has to come to the rescue of schools. The ministry can engage expert teachers to first conduct a series of model multimedia teaching sessions that will impart formal knowledge of the subject. Next, expertly designed interactive follow-up tutorial sessions can be prepared.

These tutorials will partly or sufficiently take care of the other aspects of the subject matters as mentioned above. All these teaching sessions can be video recorded in compact discs (CDs) or other computer storage devices. They can then be distributed to schools for use by teachers.

The PPSMI (Teaching of Science and Mathematics in English) has equipped schools well with laptops and LCD projectors. These facilities can now be put to good use in sex education teaching sessions. The classroom teacher will act as facilitator and school counsellors can be called in to help in any tutorial session if it becomes difficult.

This way, much pressure is taken away from the “general” teachers called to handle a sensitive and controversial subject. It will also prevent the subject matters from being unduly handled by over-zealous teachers. The ministry defines the boundaries and limits and the expert teachers model their teaching accordingly.

This is of particular importance, especially at the initial stage of introducing sex education in schools. Given time, teachers in schools will gain the necessary exposure and feedback and hence the confidence in handling the subject.



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