ST: Minister slams rival sides in Aware tussle

22 May 2009
Straits Times

Minister slams rival sides in Aware tussle
By Theresa Tan & Amelia Tan

EDUCATION Minister Ng Eng Hen had strong words yesterday for the parties in the recent Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) leadership tussle.

He said that as both sides went at each other, ‘schools were dragged into this melee, and could have become the proxy arena for competing ideologies’.

‘Issues became muddled, emotions ran high. This is an unhealthy, unproductive way to try to resolve issues that are inherently divisive.’

Dr Ng was meeting reporters to announce details of moves by the Education Ministry (MOE) to tighten the process to be used to pick external groups to teach sexuality education in schools.

The ministry’s decision to take over this area comes in the wake of the suspension of sexuality education programmes run by external agencies in schools.

Dr Ng, taking questions from reporters, was asked whether the content of the instructor’s guide for the Aware programme – which, among other things, declared homosexuality as ‘perfectly normal’ – had caught his ministry by surprise. His response: ‘It is not the MOE’s position to defend Aware’s manual. These questions should be put to Aware.’

Later, probed on the same point, he said of the instructor’s guide: ‘It was an internal document…internal documents are internal documents. If you don’t show them to MOE, we will not know about them.’

The minister also said that if parents were concerned about what their children were being taught on sexuality in school, his ministry would be happy to ‘meet with each one of them, give them the information they need, go through what is taught’.

And if they could point out the messages they were uncomfortable with, these could be corrected.

On external vendors, Dr Ng said they had to recognise that access to students in schools was ‘a qualified privilege based on trust’, and that if parents were distrustful of them, then the programmes would be ineffective.

Based on this, he said, the MOE will not use Aware’s sexuality education programme until the public regains its trust in it.

Reacting to the decision last night, Aware said it was ‘regrettable’ that MOE had seen a need to make this move.

However, it recognised that the ministry had come under considerable pressure from some parents on the matter and ‘we can understand why it has taken this action’.

Aware president Dana Lam said the group’s sexuality education programme was being reviewed. She said she did not know when it would approach MOE with it again, but that this was not one of the group’s immediate goals.

Aware’s statement said its programme had garnered a ‘disproportionate’ amount of publicity lately, and that it was unfortunate that some people now linked the group with this.

It noted that the group has also done research and advocacy on, for example, sexual harassment at work and work-life balance; offered direct services to women in distress and run talks and forums.

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