Durban - The Department of Basic Education’s new life orientation curriculum that will see pupils as young as 10 years old being taught about sex has sparked a heated debate among education stakeholders.
While education experts believe the move is long overdue, a teacher union has told its members to boycott the teaching of the proposed changes if they were in conflict with their own religious beliefs, values and norms.
According to education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga, the curriculum had been part of the comprehensive sexuality education programme since 2000.
Afrikaans teacher union, the Suid- Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie (SAOU), said that in the initial publication the title “sexuality education” was used, not “sex education”.
“In our opinion, these are two completely different concepts. Our position from the outset was that the one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate and that school communities should at all times have freedom of choice regarding what they want to teach to underage and vulnerable children. It can’t be considered compulsory at all,” the union’s Chris Klopper said.
Klopper said they were initially assured the learning material would attest to sensitivity and age-appropriateness. “Unfortunately, after studying the latest examples, we can only conclude that they acted contrary to the undertakings, and we were deliberately misled and provided with incorrect information and examples.
“We’ve also recommended that schools and school communities boycott the teaching of this learning content if they feel uncomfortable with it.
“If disciplinary actions by the Department of Education as an employer result from this, the SAOU will not hesitate to provide legal assistance and protection to members,” Klopper said.
Mhlanga said that the department had on numerous occasions clarified the matter, and went further to provide details of what was contained in the sexuality section of the curriculum.
“We’re concerned that a certain organisation persists in misleading the public by publishing the wrong information resulting in unnecessary confusion and panic among South Africans.”
Mahlangu said research showed a high birth rate among pupils aged 10 to 19. “In addition, more than 35.4% of boys and girls experience sexual violence before the age of 17. This has necessitated the department providing age-appropriate child abuse prevention education to build resilience, confidence and assertion among young people, who often don’t know when they’re being targeted by sexual predators,” he said.
Professor Deevia Bhana of the School of Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal said the concerns around sexuality and children were not new.
She commended the department for its long overdue message to children.
“The outrage shown by adults and teachers is understandable, considering that sexuality is a sensitive and controversial topic, especially when children are meant to be innocent of sexual knowledge. We live in a time and country where it’s impossible and unacceptable to ignore what children confront on a daily basis - sexuality in all its forms,” she said.
Bhana said it was natural for teachers and parents to be concerned about what could be deemed sexually explicit knowledge. “The question to parents and teachers is, would they want their children to be ignorant or knowledgeable? Research shows throughout the world that children learn best when presented with facts rather than secrecy.”
She said there were age-appropriate ways to teach the topics, adding that teachers should receive training.
“Children should learn from an early age to say no to sex and even to say the word sex. This is a positive step that the country needs to work towards,” Bhana said.