The new proposed Sexuality Education curriculum has parents and teachers all over the country up in arms, but if we remove the hysteria and look at the curriculum with an open mind, is the new curriculum really that bad?
The Department of Basic Education (DBE) says that Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) has been part of the Life Orientation subject in schools since 2000, and that no new content has been added to the curriculum.
According to a local publisher of school content, the DBE has recently developed their own material, which includes scripted lessons the teachers are asked to follow exactly. These materials are not publicly available, and local publishers are not expected to redevelop study materials, as the curriculum technically has not changed.
The DBE describes these Scripted Lesson Plans (SLPs) as designed to assist educators to teach "scientifically accurate, evidence-informed, incremental, age appropriate and culturally appropriate" sexuality education within the Life Skills and Life Orientation Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) in the classroom.
These SLPs use a "human rights approach which allows adolescents and young people to develop appropriate life skills to support healthy choices and promote gender equality".
Recent news reports based on information from Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) have revealed what appears to be extracts from these new plans, and include "graphically explicit" scenarios, examples of sexual assault, group discussions on the topic of "private parts", and more.
Ministry Spokesperson, Hope Mokgathle, told Parent24 the Department was not aware of the leaked curriculum.
The DBE aims to provide curriculum-based CSE as a way to prevent HIV and STIs infections, unwanted teen pregnancies and school related gender-based violence, with the ultimate aim of keeping children in schools.
The department reports that programmes like these have resulted in a "steady decrease in new infections" amongst adolescent girls and young women (from 2000 to 1300 infections per week) and in unwanted pregnancies (from over 99 000 in 2013 to 82 00 in 2017 pregnancies among learners).
Students with access to these CSE programmes reportedly adopted "health seeking behaviour" such as using contraception and condoms, and getting tested for HIV more frequently.
The Department maintains that the provision of sexuality education will equip learners with the "knowledge and life skills that will empower them to make informed decisions and choices to ensure that they live healthy lives and realise their full potential."
According to FOR SA, the development and planned roll out of the new curriculum has been "mired in controversy and secrecy", and the religious organisation is calling for parents to object.
They recommend writing to Parliament, but suggest that mass protest action may become "critically necessary" to prevent the potential January 2020 implementation date.
They also claim that teachers feel "very uncomfortable delivering the content" and that "many parents" say the type of "graphic and ideologically-laden content" used is "completely inappropriate".
President of the SA Teacher Union (SAOU) Chris Klopper has called the content "grossly insensitive" and called for a boycott by teachers who object to the new SLPs.
The Department has previously addressed many of these concerns, which can be found here and below.
Is it that bad?
In 2015 a UNESCO funded global review found that CSE was key to gender equality and reproductive health. Exposure to comprehensive sex education led to a reduction of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV, and unintended pregnancies, showing a positive impact on safer sexual behaviours, delaying sexual debut and increasing condom use.
With South Africa's high rates of GBV, HIV, STIs, teen pregnancy and so on, the addition of comprehensive scripted lesson plans does seem like a good idea. But just how detailed and "graphic" the new content actually is, remains to be seen.
Ministry Spokesperson, Hope Mokgathle, told Parent24 the Department was not aware of the 'leaked' curriculum.
UPDATE: Michael Swain, executive director at FOR SA, told Parent24 that they were "given the opportunity to view the Scripted Lesson Plans (SLPs) and Educator Guides (Grades 4 – 12) of the revised CSE curriculum by a political party, who had in turn requested and were provided with these by the DBE following their briefing to the Basic Education Parliamentary Portfolio Committee in September."
Nonetheless, judgment must be reserved until the DBE officially releases the content and calls on parents, teachers and stakeholders to comment.
*This is a developing story
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