People march to the Union Buildings to oppose Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) taught in schools. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)
People march to the Union Buildings to oppose Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) taught in schools. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)

The right way to give pupils sex education

By MARY DE HAAS Time of article published Feb 18, 2020

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The Department of Basic Education has developed what it terms a comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) policy for implementation in schools which has been rejected by many teachers and parents.

Despite some of the content being highly controversial the department has warned teachers that if they refuse to teach it they will be subject to disciplinary action.

This authoritarian approach suggests that the department has not consulted widely enough with either the teachers or parents, and it is encroaching on the rights of parents to decide what their children should be taught about sex, and by whom.

Nor are teachers the people to teach such a sensitive subject for it requires skills and experience which are not part of standard classroom teaching.

It seems that the department is unaware of the existence of a comprehensive sex education programme which was taught, successfully, for many years in KwaZulu-Natal, by social workers or experienced counsellors who had had specialised training in this field and in dealing with human relationship problems generally.

The programme was devised by the late Ruth Keech, an experienced marriage and family therapist (and a well-known South African poet) at what was then Marriage Guidance (now Famsa) from the 1970s.

It was regularly updated - to deal with HIV-related issues, for example - and the early version was published by Keech in her book Education for Living. Before she died in 2013 she had written a voluminous draft of an update which included topical issues, and guidelines for running group discussions about them.

Teaching the biological aspects of sex and reproduction is straightforward, but when linking it to human behaviour moral issues abound, especially in a culturally and religiously heterogeneous society.

Education for Living was grounded in the experience gained by social workers in the field of marriage and family therapy, which included sexual problems, but Keech also read widely on moral philosophy and all the topics covered in the syllabus, taking into account relevant background influences in the pre-1994 racially segregated schools.

The basic premise was that any teaching about sex should only take place in the broader context of a range of key issues affecting human relationships and sexuality, and value systems which inform them.

Education of this nature should not be imposed on teachers, and anyone implementing it should be well trained and, if not experienced in the field, receive supervision.

The solution would be for the department to assign social workers to schools in different districts, provide them with specialised training in human relationship problems and sex education - which Famsa could probably offer - but who would also act as counsellors at the schools.

The department has done this the wrong way: while riding roughshod over the rights of teachers and parents, it wants to enforce a programme which, as currently conceived, is unlikely to succeed in its aims.

* Mary De Haas is a violence monitor and analyst. 

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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