ST: MOE tightens vetting of sexuality education

22 May 2009
Straits Times

MOE tightens vetting of sexuality education

Schools lose autonomy to hire external programme providers
By Theresa Tan

THE Education Ministry is tightening its processes to vet and approve external agencies allowed to provide sexuality education in schools.

From now, schools no longer have the autonomy to hire external providers of sexuality education programmes. They will have to choose from a list vetted and approved by the ministry.

The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) will not be on the list. Its sexuality education programme came under attack during its recent leadership struggle when critics charged that it promoted homosexuality.

Aware’s trainers will not go to schools, the ministry said, until the group gains the trust of the public for its sexuality programme.

The ministry is also stepping up consultation with experts on what to teach during lessons on sex and sexuality.

And it will make sure parents get more information about what is taught, so that those who prefer not to have their children in sexuality education classes can opt out.

But, in announcing these moves yesterday, Education Minister Ng Eng Hen emphasised that sexuality education remained an important part of what schools teach.

The reason is plain in the number of young girls getting pregnant each year, and the rising number of boys and girls contracting sexually-transmitted diseases and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes Aids.

A fact of life in Singapore is that some youngsters are sexually active, and children have many more sources of information about sex today – the Internet, popular culture and their friends, as well as exposure to a variety of social norms.

‘If we don’t give them information, they will get it elsewhere. Hence, it is important for them to be able to receive objective and reliable information in schools,’ Dr Ng said.

Speaking at a press conference, he announced the following:

# A new steering committee headed by Director General of Education Ho Peng will involve the Health Promotion Board and a wide spectrum of experts to advise on and review the sexuality education curriculum.

# A new committee headed by Director of Education Programmes Sum Chee Wah will use a more stringent checklist to vet and approve external agencies and trainers that schools can hire to teach sexuality education programmes.

# The ministry’s Community and Parents in Support of Schools (Compass) group led by Senior Minister of State Grace Fu and Senior Parliamentary Secretary Masagos Zulkifli will gather feedback from the wider public and parents.

The changes come a fortnight after MOE suspended all sexuality education courses taught by external agencies, following the Aware controversy.

Dr Ng took pains to explain not only why sexuality education must go on, but also what the school programme is based on and how it has evolved.

Right from the start, in 2000, sexuality education here has been viewed in the context of mainstream values that encourage heterosexual married couples to have healthy relationships and build stable families.

‘We do not condone promiscuity, sexual experimentation or promote homosexuality,’ he said. ‘MOE teaches the values which are held by the majority, whether they are religious or not.’

But there have been changes over the years.

At the start, the main message was that youngsters should abstain from sex until marriage.

But, with no reduction in the number of teen pregnancies and a sharp increase sexually transmitted infections, changes were made to the programme in 2007.

Aside from being taught to say no, students were now also taught the repercussions of unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, and how those who are sexually active can protect themselves with contraception.

‘This is now a key focus of sexuality education and should continue to be, moving forward,’ Dr Ng said.

More than once yesterday, Dr Ng expressed unhappiness that schools had been dragged into what he called the Aware ‘melee’ between the old guard leaders and their challengers.

He said: ‘What we must avoid is different groups with competing ideologies using our schools and young as proxy arenas to push their own set of beliefs.

‘We must not go down the way, as has happened in the US, where schools become the proxy battleground for the Christian right and gay interest groups to settle arguments.’

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