Is including sex education in the school curriculum a priority now?
The recent rise in incidents of rape has been attributed to our patriarchal society at large and our failure to treat women with dignity and honour as human beings. Concerned feminist groups, activists, and social scientists have come up with the idea of educating our young generation on sex.
Some opine that it is time to start with sex education at schools to make children aware of essential aspects of puberty and sex as they grow up. It has been rightly pointed out that sex being a taboo, there is hardly any talk on this, neither at the parental level nor at school. This keeps our children in the dark and gives rise to a lot of apprehension as they grow up and come across manifestations of sex in their own lives.
Informed decision-making on this sensitive issue will entail much deliberation to find out justifications in favour of this as to what dividend it will pay, its social implications, the actual pedagogical contents, modality of imparting lessons, and many other pertinent issues. There is a tendency to include anything and everything into school curriculum these days out of a feeling that if appropriate education is given from an early age, students will be well equipped as they grow.
For instance, agriculture and our heritage are both important and hence, have been incorporated into school curriculum. But it leaves a lot of doubt whether the integration of such subjects has been appropriately done to be useful to young learners. I had some exposure to the education of school children wherein I found considerable scope of thoughtful intervention to set things in order.
In the name of imparting lessons in agriculture we are compelling a student of class six to memorize the temperature settings for an incubator to hatch chicken eggs, for instance. A student of this age may not have even seen poultry or hatching of eggs. Similarly, I came across a teacher finding it difficult to explain the “Lahore Resolution” to a group of class seven students in our effort to highlight our history and heritage to the next progeny.
Before imparting lessons on such subjects, the teachers themselves need to be adequately trained to enable them to have a proper grip on the subject. The idea perhaps is good, but to say the least, not sufficient work has been done to impart effective lessons.
Proponents of the idea of early sex education for school children lay emphasis on the aspects of “consent and contraceptive.” This has to be done with a lot of caution. We have to be sure about what we really want to teach and how that would actually help them. Analysis would be required in reaching such crucial decisions, which would have long-term ramifications for the society.
Have we talked to the offenders, and is there much reason to conclude that their overture was just because of not having education on the subject, that they were ignorant of the aspect of consent as an important issue? Can we expect that with sufficient education, they will exercise restraint and not force their victims to succumb to their desire?
Other human considerations may prompt in exercising restraint. This could be out of fear of punishment, fear of society or shame, or even religious or moral bindings. This definitely will vary according to the mental makeup of the individual and, of course, the circumstances.
If we talk about a liberal society, where sex education for school children has been part of their curriculum, we may take France as a good example. But even in France they have not been able to check the occurrences of rape.
Surprisingly, a lot of such cases are being committed by teenagers educated on the subject. It has also been revealed that a large percentage of the offenders do not even have any remorse for what they did.
So, can we really say that sex education is going to result in scaling down incidents of rape in society?
Students in a French classroom are imparted lessons on body organs with the help of 3D print outs. They learn about the mystery of the human body. But ultimately, merely imparting such knowledge does not really help in eradicating the menace of sex-related violence in any society.
Introduction of sex education even in France has been a gradual and drawn-out process. There were oppositions from the dominant Catholic Church and parents’ groups. Changes in their values and customs were questioned. In 1967, the statute was passed which authorized contraception, and sex education became an important issue.
In 1973, the recommendation for sex information and education in schools was made. Finally in 1985, life education was entered into the primary syllabus. Initially they suffered due to not having trained teachers.
Education highlighting relevant aspects may help in awareness generation for parents as to how they can safeguard their children from being maltreated. This is also likely to help children in making them conscious and identify likely threats in their living environment and take precautions.
For best results, this may be combined with moral and ethical aspects which will give them an idea of social norms and decency so far as it relates to responsible behaviour. If we are thinking of introducing the basics of sex education to school children considering that this would help us in tackling the rising number of rape cases in society, there is a requirement of an elaborate study involving stakeholders like informed parents, child psychologists, social scientists, legal experts, law makers, law enforcers, and religious leaders.
Brig Gen Qazi Abidus Samad (Retd) is a freelance contributor. He can be reached via email [email protected]