Cape Town - The parents of a Grade 6 learner at Parow Valley Primary School are fuming after discovering a booklet containing scripted lesson plans about sexuality education in life skills.
The parents, who spoke on the basis of anonymity out of fear that their daughter might be victimised, said they came across the book while covering textbooks to be used for the schooling year.
The 11-year-old's father says it's not the lesson about puberty that made him see red, but rather the aggressive explanations of certain terms in the book and detailed pictures of the male and female body when it changes.
“Words such as ‘ejaculation' and ‘wet dreams' were described in explicit detail, which I feel was not necessary.
“This is a discussion a parent should have with their children. It's a sensitive topic and should be done in a safe, comfortable environment.
“Having discussions like this at school can easily open the doors to curiosity, and nowadays we have our children on phones, which they will obviously use to search for information,” he said.
The father said he understands that many people have a difference in opinion about the book, but feels the school or department could have informed parents beforehand.
The girl's mother said she was also shocked when she read the contents of the book. “I obviously had a talk with my daughter about puberty, but the terms used in this book, even I was shocked,” she said.
Student spiritual support and counselling mentor Dr Andre Powan said he did a survey with parents on the topic. “During my survey, the consensus was reached that it (sexuality education) was not age appropriate.
Powan, however, said he does not believe the terms used in the book are “bad words”.
“These words and their meanings, like ejaculation, are scientifically accepted words for the actions of the anatomy of the human body,” he said.
However, Department of Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said learners needed this information as it was not discussed at home.
“We understand that these matters are not easy for parents to handle. These books are used nationwide, and we have never encountered any challenges.
“The intention is to empower young people with information and not to offend anybody,” he said.
Kavya Swaminathan, an interventions team supervisor at the TEARS Foundation, a crisis-intervention and advocacy organisation, explained why sex ed at this stage of children’s lives is age appropriate.
“The truth of the matter is children in Grade 6 are in the stage of life when they will be going through puberty, a natural bodily change that everyone experiences.
“We need to normalise this change and address it as it is. A vagina is a ‘vagina’ and a penis is a ‘penis’.
“By trying to sugar-coat these terms we are indirectly teaching our children that there is something shameful happening to them.
“This can possibly leave children with a skewed perspective of their own body.
“Comprehensive sexual education is vital, it allows them to understand complex issues such as their bodies, gender identity and sexuality.
“Learning more about this also facilitates understanding on how to create and maintain safe relationships as well as how to communicate and make decisions regarding sex in a healthy and safe manner,” she said.
Swaminathan adds that parents play a primary role in shaping how children view and understand their role in society as well as how they come to understand complex ideas such as sexuality and sexual identity.
“That being said, schools and teachers also play a strong supporting role in this understanding as well.”
Educational psychologist Genevieve da Silva also encouraged parents to engage with their children about the topic and gave a few pointers.
“Parents are a vital part of a child’s development, including sexuality. Engage in conversation with your school.
“Be an active participant in your child’s education (holistically) and part of the school community – raise your concerns, but come also with solutions.
“Create open conversations with your children early (age appropriately) about difficult topics. Help them process these things through values-based discussions as well as critical thinking and skills development.
“Parenting is best done in community – who else is helping you raise your children (teachers, community leaders, religious leaders)? Engage with them – equip yourself or your partner to engage in difficult conversations and equip yourself with the tools to be able to navigate complex spaces (like sexuality).