ST: External sex education programmes suspended in schools

7 May 2009
Straits Times

External sex education programmes suspended in schools

By Theresa Tan & Amelia Tan

ALL sexuality education programmes run by external groups in schools – including the controversial one by the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) – have been suspended by the Ministry of Education (MOE).

In addition, the ministry will implement a new, tougher vetting process for the selection of such external programmes by schools.

The move comes about a week after some parents told MOE that they were concerned about the content found in an instructor guide for Aware’s programme, which was posted online.

The Aware programme for schools was one of the touchstones of a spat within the organisation, which ended last Saturday with the ousting of a month-old leadership team who had railed against what they called ‘pro-homosexuality’ content in it.

MOE conducted an investigation after some parents expressed concern.

Yesterday, the press secretary to Education Minister Ng Eng Hen, Ms Jennifer Chan, said in a letter to The Straits Times that the basic instructor guide for Aware’s programme did not conform to MOE’s guidelines on sexuality education.

‘In particular, some suggested responses in the instructor guide are explicit and inappropriate, and convey messages which could promote homosexuality or suggest approval of premarital sex,’ she said, without elaborating on the inappropriate responses.

A copy of the guide posted online contained lines such as ‘anal sex can be healthy or neutral if practised with consent and with a condom’, and ‘homosexuality is perfectly normal. Just like heterosexuality, it is simply the way you are’.

However, Ms Chan pointed out that some parts of the guide were positive: It gave accurate information on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV, for example.

But, she stressed, the ministry and its schools ‘do not promote alternative lifestyles to our students’.

She added: ‘MOE’s framework for sexuality education reflects mainstream views and values of Singapore society, where the social norm consists of the married heterosexual family unit.

‘Parents are ultimately responsible for inculcating values to their children, and the MOE’s sexuality education programme aims to complement parents’ roles in helping students make informed, responsible and values-based decisions about sexuality.’

The ministry, she said, had reviewed the current process used to select external groups to run school programmes, and found that they could be improved.

It will also do more to ensure that training materials and programmes in schools are in line with its framework on sexuality education, and will review ways to give parents more information about sexuality education.

Other groups which conduct sexuality programmes in schools include the Singapore Planned Parenthood Association and the Family Life Society.

The new leadership of Aware said it was not surprised by MOE’s move. It said it stood by its programme, but was prepared to make changes if necessary.

In a statement, it said the instructor guide was a confidential document used strictly for instructor training.

‘Like all instructor guides, ours contains far more information than is used. The guide includes possible responses for instructors should certain topics, such as homosexuality and premarital sex, be raised during sessions,’ it said.

‘They are not necessarily the responses actually used, as our instructors always use language and terms appropriate to their audience.’

The statement added that Aware’s aim has always been to help students make ‘informed and responsible decisions about their sexuality in the context of values taught by their parents’.

Meanwhile, senior lawyer Thio Su Mien, the self-described ‘feminist mentor’ of the ousted Aware leadership, said she was ‘pleased’ that MOE had looked into the matter and acted in a ‘responsible fashion’.

Former president Josie Lau declined comment.

Several parents contacted also welcomed the move.

Mr Vincent Lim, a 34-year-old private tutor and father of two young children, said: ‘It is good news for parents. I hope that educators focus on inculcating strong family values and having stable relationships in our sex education programme. The family is the backbone of society.’

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