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Johannesburg - The Department of Basic Education has moved to allay fears over sexual education in the Life Orientation subject from Grade 4. 

The department said reports that learners would be taught about masturbation in the classroom by teachers were not true and said boy and girl learners would not be made to use their body parts as teaching tools.

In a stern rebuke, the department described misleading reports as a “deliberate misrepresentation of facts”.

Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the confusion was being fueled by a 'certain organisation' which was leading to unnecessary panic among parents and the public-at-large.

"We have done our best to help by providing information but they refuse to understand and instead choose to mislead the public.

"The Department of Basic Education wishes to reiterate that there is no new content that has been added to the Life Orientation subject in schools. The Comprehensive Sexuality Education has been part of the curriculum since the year 2000," said Mhlanga.

One of the claims was that Grade 7 learners would be taught about masturbation and how “perfectly normal” it was.

The department shot down this idea and clarified that Grade 7 lessons were in fact about understanding puberty.

“This section of the lesson talks about changes adolescents experience during puberty and it refers the learners to talk to parents or doctors as a good way to have information and ask questions that they may have about how these changes affect them and relationships.

“It further lists questions that learners may need answers to including about kissing, dating and masturbation and sex. The reading on the question provide some of the answers that learners might get including masturbation which is not going to discussed or taught by a teacher as learners are referred to ask these questions from parents,” said Mhlanga.

The department said they were aware of challenges including high birth rates among teens and children as young as 10.

In 2017, more than 2 700 children aged between 10-14, bore children, while 110 000 learners aged between 15-19, gave birth in the same period.

"Research findings indicate high birth rates among adolescents and teenagers; in addition,more than a third of girls and boys (35.4%) experience sexual violence before the age of 17.  

"This has necessitated the great need for the department to provide age appropriate child abuse prevention education that builds resilience, confidence and assertion amongst young people, who often do not know when they are being violated by sexual predators," said Mhlanga. 

The department said the life orientation lesson plans were aimed not at sexualising children, but instead to teach them about self-respect, respect and for children  to identify inappropriate physical interactions.

"The Department conducts tests of the scripted lesson plans in high-burden districts, where there are high teenage pregnancy, birth and HIV rates. The School Governing Body, School Management Team, teachers and parents are orientated on the lessons, as it is our principle to orientate parents when we introduce new lesson plans.

"In seeking to find a comprehensive and all-encompassing curriculum that seeks to address real world challenges and issues faced by learners in their day-to-day lives, the department has through various consultation platforms allowed for the evolution of the content within both the Learner and Teacher Guides," said Mhlanga. 

He said it was intended for learners to build an understanding of concepts, content, values and attitudes related to sexuality, sexual behavior change as well as leading safe and healthy lives.  

"By the age of 13, young people are at a stage of puberty and experience emotional, social and physical changes. 

"It is a known fact that most parents do not talk to their children about these changes, which leads to experimentation and risky sexual behaviours.

Teen births remain unacceptably high and impact on learning on teaching. Only one third of girls stay in school during their pregnancy and return following childbirth. This creates poverty traps for families," Mhlanga explained.

The department said the strategy on life orientation and sexual education was informed by comprehensive research. 

IOL