PETALING JAYA - What is a good age to teach children sex education? That has become a topic of discussion among teachers and parents with a new curriculum that brings sex education to 11-year-olds.
The subject used to be taught to children when they were in Form Three, at the age of 15.
The Education Ministry and the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry, as well as a vocal parent group, are all for the new move, saying it was necessary.
The first chapter of the Year Five Physical Education (Pendidikan Kesihatan) subject introduces pupils to the differences between the male and female reproductive organs, as well as between sperm and ovum, and explains the menstrual cycle and how to identify and handle unwanted sexual attention.
In a subtopic titled "Dari mana datangnya adik? (Where do younger siblings come from?)", the male and female reproductive organs are explained complete with diagrams.
According to the Education Ministry, elements of sex education have been a part of Reproductive and Social Health Education (PEERS) in secondary schools since 1989 and primary schools since 1994.
Deputy Education Minister P. Kamalanathan said PEERS in the Health Education curriculum included all educational opportunities that help students understand and prepare for real-life experiences.
Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun said the teaching of the topic was part of the reproductive health curriculum.
She added that it was important for pupils to learn about their bodies and its functions through the proper channels.
Some teachers expressed doubts over the teaching of this subject to primary school pupils as it was still seen as a taboo subject.
One of them said teachers were having difficulty explaining and answering pupils' questions as sexual health was not a subject one could comfortably discuss with children.
"You know children at that age. They have a lot of questions and some you can't talk to them about it. Teachers are finding it hard to find the right balance of what can and cannot be discussed," the teacher said.
Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) supported the move to teach the subject earlier, as it felt it was better for pupils to learn such matters at school.
Its president Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said the group had always been supportive of reproductive health being taught in schools.