Comprehensive Sexuality Education: What’s all the fuss about?

Comprehensive Sexuality Education: What’s all the fuss about?

The Department of Education has introduced the Comprehensive Sexuality Education Curriculum and parents are up in arms about it. But is the outrage warranted or is it just a storm in a teacup? Terence Pillay investigates.

Photo of empty classroom / Pexels
Photo of empty classroom / Pexels

Listen to this week's episode, or read below:

Last week I spoke about the Grade 9 exit certificate and there was an overwhelming response on social media. But another issue emerged that warranted looking into and that was this so called Sex Education Programme that’s meant to be running at schools.

A lot of parents implored me to investigate this because they don't think that kids aged nine and ten should have sex education at school. And so I investigated and found that there was indeed uproar about the Comprehensive Sexuality curriculum Education in schools, which is what it is actually called.

Some people seem to be reporting it as something else, so firstly we need to establish that this is not really sex education. The media has in fact been reporting it as: 'School Sex Education', 'Sex Education Curriculum Slammed' and so on, making the headline salacious to sell newspapers and encourage click throughs on their websites of course. 

So, yes, obviously, there's been uproar and a lot of misinformation and fake news around this sexuality education program and this is what I discovered immediately when I started to actually investigate the matter. So one of the things is that the Department of Education has responded to the fake news and false media reports related to the CSE and its merits. Firstly, it’s just a component of the life orientation curriculum; it's not the whole curriculum.

The Department of Basic Education’s Elijah Mahlangu said they’re not introducing anything that is new, except the scripted lesson plans, which they've been piloting since 2015. But there's been a constant, back and forth with people, producing what were some “leaked documents” that some group put together saying. “This is what we're going to be teaching children and it's got these graphic pictures” and that kind of nonsense, which of course is all not true. 

And then the Department of Education went as far as publishing all the scripted lesson plans for grades four through to grade twelve and both the lesson plans and the educators guide for comprehensive sexuality education are now freely available on the internet. Just go to today, and look for it.

And so parents have a chance to see what's going to be taught, as opposed to just having a knee jerk reaction to it. If you go onto social media, you will see people complaining, saying it's terrible, but they didn’t actually read and understand what's being said; they read a headline and then had a reaction to it.

They all believe that this curriculum is going to be teaching your young kids how to have sex, which of course is not true.

So let’s look at some examples. Lesson 4.1 – respect for my own body, lesson 4.2 – respecting the bodies of others, dealing with conflict, emotions, why am I feeling this way, bullying, responding to bullying and so on. Then there are lessons on culture, society, and sexuality, the basics of HIV and AIDS, transmission of HIV. And then the last one is celebrating the life of Nkosi Johnson. So in no way is it a sex manual. But parents think it is because they’re simply reacting to a headline.

And even in grades eleven and twelve, the topics being explored are: priorities in life, goals, healthy relationships, choosing the right influences, healthy and unhealthy relationships and the media, living a balanced lifestyle, staying in control, understanding the consequences of risky behaviour, positive role models, violence and rape prevention, support and change, taking action against abuse – these are all positive things. These are things that we want our children to come out of school knowing – how to deal with conflict, how to have healthy, positive relationships, how to be a good person that's not going to go around raping and abusing people.

The statement on the Department of Education’s website says: “CSE is not sex education. CSE does not teach learners how to have sex. CSE does not sexualize children. CSE does not only focus on the physical relationships nor does it teach behaviour and values that encourage bad choices.”

And then, of course, if you want to look at things like: why do we have the need to teach children these types of lessons, it’s because we've got the age group 14 to 24 that are losing their lives due to HIV AIDS and TB, female learners are dropping out of school before completing their studies because of teenage pregnancy, and a large number of female learners are victims of gender-based violence. This is intended to equip young people to deal with these things.

So as far as I am concerned, this big brouhaha is a storm in a teacup – people just don’t read and understand things before proferring their “expert opinions” on social media. 

This whole thing is, culturally and, shall we say, spiritually, a very contentious subject. And so, conservative people who believe that these things are not to be discussed ever and that you will only ever learn about your body and sexuality when you are standing at the altar or the night after you stood at the altar, is the kind of mindset that is pushing back against this very healthy program.

James Dobson, a Christian writer, has also been quite vocal on the matter. But, firstly, we need to acknowledge that the whole premise for his work is that you have to have a mother and a father that have children and live in a house in suburbia with the white picket fence. That's his scenario; that is the crowd that he speaks to. His idea of family is the hetero-normative family unit – mother, father, three children – two boys and a girl. And all the three children will grow up hetero-normative and continue to have two boys and a girl. And none of them will ever get involved in an alternative family arrangement, like divorce and be a single parent, or have two dads, have two moms, or have a mom and dad who come from a different cultural backgrounds.

I think it's dangerous for people like that to be given this big platform where they are writing columns and informing other people of this narrow-minded myopic view of the world.

There are people who just don't know anything about it and they're making all kinds of statements. According to the South African teachers union operational director (and this is a man who's responsible for teachers), Johan Kruger said that the implementation would be unacceptable. He said that the union indicated to its members that they should leave the curriculum out if they're not comfortable with it, adding that there will be support provided if action was taken against them.

This is totally unacceptable. 

He said it’s not every teacher that can actually provide sexual orientation education to learners. But he, like everyone else, has missed the point – it is not sexual orientation education. This guy is talking without any knowledge of this topic. And he is the head of a teacher’s union but he hasn't even looked at the documents. I just don't understand it. And, of course, the ACDP lambasted the department saying that they should rather focus on improving the appalling state of literacy and numeracy in schools instead of teaching children about sex. It's just ridiculous. We are complete people. We are not just people who need to read and count. We are also people who need to interact with others and live a full, holistic life. How do you compartmentalise the learning and say, we should focus on literacy and numeracy and not talk about other things. It's just madness.

What I would like to do is urge people to go and have a look at the curriculum for themselves before making a judgment. So what does it say; read through it, scrutinise it. And then if you still oppose it, voice your informed opinion on it.

How many parents would be upset if their child suffers from body dysmorphia, for example, and then becomes anorexic because they don't have a positive body image? Part of what this does is also teach children about respecting their bodies so they don’t have to deal with those kinds of issues. That's got to be good. We have so many young people dealing with these terrible emotional issues; for one, not being able to say no, not knowing when it's appropriate to say no. getting pregnant – we have a massive teenage pregnancy problem. And parents themselves could use these lesson plans to have those difficult conversations that they are terrified to have with their children. Go and work through them, look at them and say, “Wow, this is actually a resource I could use in my own home to have a conversation with my children about these issues”.

In the lesson on positive self image, you will read a story about a brave young South African role model and how she accepted herself despite having progeria, a disfiguring disease where you age prematurely but you're encouraged to think positively about yourself. This is linked to the lesson about good decision making, good choices, and positive behaviour.

Then there’s the example of two boys who are sitting and talking and the older boy is offering the younger boy drugs saying, “Come on Thando have some drugs, it will make you feel powerful.” The lesson then encourages the children to write down important questions about the scenario – who is who in the relationship? What kind of relationship does it promote, whether or not the relationship is a good one or a bad one, by looking carefully at the picture to justify your answer using evidence you have found? How are the characters feeling?

Then there’s another picture – a grandmother is sitting in a rocking chair with her granddaughter at her feet. Granny is reading a story. It encourages learners to ask: who is in this relationship? What kind of relationship is it? Is it a good one or a bad one? How the characters feeling?

So it's a big storm in a teacup is what it is. And I am saying to parents that they should wake up and actually read the material before spewing this uninformed opinion and fake news on social media. Maybe put your phone down and stop checking Facebook for 10 minutes and read the curriculum.

And I urge those people out there who are intent on putting out fake news about this curriculum, to cease and desist because what you're doing is setting up an entire generation of children for failure. 

You can email Terence Pillay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @terencepillay1 and tweet him your thoughts. 

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