Comprehensive sexuality education comes under scrutiny
The Ministry of Education is being asked to set clear guidelines for the teaching of sex education in the island’s schools.
During a fiery hour-long television debate Sunday night on the contentious issue of comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), Chairman of the children’s charity ProtEqt Children’s Foundation Dr Veronica Evelyn stopped just short of describing the teaching of the subject as a free-for-all.
Evelyn, whose charity and advocacy group works in schools across the island, charged that there was no policy on what should be taught, or no consistent content, and the teachers lacked the proper training needed to deliver the health and family life education (HFLE) programme.
“The question is who is teaching . . . because in the schools you have health and family life educators who have been trained, but what goes on on the ground is . . . many times in order to just fill space in a timetable, if a teacher doesn’t have enough periods for the week, they are put to teacher HFLE,” the sociologist said on the CBC television show, The People’s Business.
“In our schools – and I am saying this without any fear of contradiction, I have worked with the schools – you have persons who have not been trained who are delivering this content . . . and not only so [but] because of a lack of accountability, sometimes it is abused,” she added.
CSE is one of the United Nations’ key strategies for combating the spread of HIV and AIDS among children and young people, and is described by the UN agency UNESCO as “an age-appropriate, culturally relevant approach to teaching about sex and relationships by providing scientifically accurate, realistic, non-judgemental information”.
UNESCO says that by adopting a comprehensive strategy, CSE emphasizes “an approach to sexuality education that encompasses the full range of information, skills and values to enable young people to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights and to make decisions about their health and sexuality”.
However, it has sparked controversy here, with Government legislator and church leader David Durant recently charging that CSE was “one of the greatest assaults on the health and innocence of children” and has an almost excessive focus on teaching children how to obtain sexual pleasure or gratification in various ways, including masturbation, anal and oral sex.
“I am appealing to the Ministry of Education and the PTA not to allow comprehensive sexuality education to enter our school system. It should not be embraced here because comprehensive sexuality education is one of the greatest assaults on the health and innocence of children. This is because unlike traditional sexual education, comprehensive sexuality education uses explicit material to promote promiscuity and high risk sexual behaviour to children as healthy and normal,” he said in his contribution to the debate on the 2017/2018 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure.
“I do not think it is anything we should impose on our six, seven, eight, nine and ten-year-old children and even children a little older. The main goal of comprehensive sexuality education is to change the sexual norms of society. I am appealing that we do not allow it to have a firm root in our society,” he stressed.
This led to a stinging response from George Griffith, a social worker and former executive director of the Barbados Family Planning Association, who wrote in a column in Barbados TODAY that Durant’s opposition to the subject was “rooted in a set of deep-seated myths and downright misinformation based on denial and failure to accept that in this day and age, our children cannot be insulated from the realities of today’s 21st century world”.
“I make bold to say that persons who seek to deny our children access to CSE on the basis of their denial, fear, homophobic disposition or warped religions beliefs are doing them a great disservice,” Griffith wrote.
The former BFPA chief was among the five-member panel appearing on Sunday night’s television show. However, it was left to the association’s Youth Development Officer Keriann Hurley to repel many of the charges – both direct and inferred – including concerns by Ambrose Carter, the Pure Sex Centre founder, whose organization promotes abstinence before marriage.
Carter said research by his organization had revealed that 87 per cent of 11-plus students preferred to wait until marriage to have sex, and questioned whether CSE covered this “full circle of truth”.
“So, they want to wait for marriage, who is teaching them that? You asked about the real life practices? I am asking about the way of teaching. You hearing about all the sub-cultures and these things and the things that are bad that are happening. So who is bringing the positive? If the Barbados Family Planning Association is charged with the responsibility of teaching health and sexuality education to our children . . . is the Barbados Family Planning Association also encouraging children, or telling them that sex in marriage is also an option?” he asked.
However, Hurley told the panel, which also included President of the Youth Advocacy and Outreach Movement of the BFPA Kamal Clarke, that the children got the full truth about sex.
“We do give the full circle of truth and we do definitely make sure that all of the information allows every person whether you are religious or not to be able to make an informed decision and be able to stick to your personal value system,” she said.
Despite the strong differences, all the panellists agreed there was need for sex education in schools, but it ought to be delivered in an age-appropriate manner.