While many parents and religious organisations argue that the age group may be too young to understand, others believe children are exposed to sexual topics at an earlier age compared with previous generations.
Education stakeholders were reacting to reports that the Department of Basic Education will be introducing a new life orientation textbook that talks about sex education.
Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the book was guided by Unesco’s international technical guidelines on sexual education. It was being written with the input and guidance of research by respected South African institutions.
“The Grade 4s will learn, in a most age-appropriate and sensitive way, how babies are made. It will also encourage them to share what celebrations they know of that are linked to welcoming babies. The book will cover the importance of respecting others and oneself as well as discuss the topic of personal boundaries and understanding the concept of privacy,” Mhlanga said.
Anglican Bishop Rubin Philip said while the subject matter was sensitive, the reality was that many children were exposed to topics of sexuality and sexual matters.
“Many children are exposed to sexual topics and even pornographic material.
“I think there should be a conversation between the school governing body and parents to ask parents to assist with guidelines and how best to approach it in a classroom,” he said.
The president of the South African Hindu Maha Sabha, Ashwin Trikamjee, said sex education in schools must be age appropriate. He welcomed the textbook’s focus on healthy, ethical and morally upright conduct, however, he expressed concern that religious bodies were not consulted about the book.
Durban-based educational psychologist Nicola Buhr said parents were not given enough information on how the content would be taught.
“When a syllabus is developed, content is graded and taught at an age- appropriate level. So what is taught in Grade 4 will not be the same as what is taught in Grade 11. As an example, Aids education does not start with how we contract Aids. It starts with teaching that we do not touch someone else’s blood,” she said.
“Sex education has always been a part of the syllabus. The syllabus that is currently being written will likely be aiming to update the syllabus to reflect modern society. With the sensitive topics being covered, though, a better explanation of what is covered at what age group would have prevented the current outcry,” she said.
Buhr said diversity occurred on numerous levels and acceptance of diversity should be taught from a young age.
“This is not just about sex education. It is also about gender equality, gender differences, respect, consent, health and other topics relevant to our humanity,” she said.