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Tue, May 12, 2009
The Straits Times
Sexuality 101

Last Wednesday, the Education Ministry said that it would suspend all external sexuality education programmes which organisations offer schools.

This followed complaints about the programme provided by Aware, which projects homosexuality as a 'neutral' activity.

Here is a run-down of the programmes that are or have been offered.

MINISTRY OF EDUCATION (MOE)

What is taught: In the formal curriculum, topics on sexuality are incorporated in Science, Health Education and Civics, and Moral education lessons.

A co-curricular element was introduced in 2000 in the form of the Growing Years package.
This is divided into four segments.

The Curious Minds segment is for upper primary students experiencing the onset of puberty. It stresses the importance of character development and health. The multimedia content includes interactive games and role-play.

Topics include the reproductive system, pubertal changes and coping strategies, building healthy relationships and the importance of family.

The Teenage Years package for lower secondary students guides them on issues related to building self-esteem, why chastity and abstinence are important, and the consequences of pre-marital sex.

The Sense And Sexuality package for upper secondary students takes the view that this period of life is turbulent, leading youths to act on impulse, make short-sighted choices and experiment with activities, including sex.

It covers topics such as a better understanding of relationships, setting boundaries and understanding the influence of the media on sexuality.

The Love Matters segment for junior colleges and centralised institutes focuses on interpersonal relationships - touching on human development, sexual health and behaviour, and society and culture.

Is homosexuality discussed?

It is covered in one lesson in the lower secondary package.

Said an MOE spokesman: 'The lesson seeks to inform students of the definition of 'homosexual', and that homosexual acts are illegal under Singapore law.

'It does not promote homosexuality but follows social norms of mainstream society.'

AWARE

What is taught: The programme started in 2007 and has reached 11 schools so far. A maximum of 25 participants is allowed per workshop, which lasts three hours each time, either during or after school hours.

The programme was designed and drawn from an international workshop by the International Women's Health Coalition. Focus groups on the programme were also conducted in post-secondary institutions, and with teachers and parents.

The instructors' guide lists its objectives as helping participants to 'develop a healthy and positive attitude towards sexuality' and empowering them 'in their decision-making about their sexual life'.

The content ranges from HIV and Aids to other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), to contraception as well as relationship and body image issues.

Participants are taught that sexuality is normal but they should consider the consequences of teenage pregnancy and STIs.

They are also taught how to say 'no' if they are being pressured into sex and how to believe that they are worthy of a good relationship, no matter what people tell them.

Is homosexuality discussed?

The instructors' manual - which is not revealed to students - suggests that it be treated as neutral as 'it is perfectly normal... simply the way you are'.

Trainers have to follow some segments of this manual closely, such as teaching about risky sex and STIs, but the rest depends on how much time they have and the questions students ask.

The materials also include condoms and a 'simulated penis' to teach participants how to put on condoms.

Virginity is also suggested as a neutral term, or a 'a state of mind' as it may not necessarily be physical.

For example, girls may be considered virgins if they have not experienced being in a sexual relationship with men.

Anal sex is also suggested as a neutral term. A suggested explanation for this is that 'anal sex can be healthy or neutral if practised with consent and with a condom'.

The manual notes: 'Not having sex is the best way of preventing Aids and STI, but if you choose to be sexually active, using condoms correctly and consistently is a key way to reduce risk.'

SINGAPORE PLANNED PARENTHOOD ASSOCIATION (SPPA)

What is taught: The voluntary non-profit organisation has been conducting talks and workshops for schools, the public and other organisations for over 20 years. There are no religious links to the programme.

On average, 10 schools a year go through the programme and students are between 13 and 16 years old.

The workshops are three hours long while assembly talks are an hour. The content was developed by officers from teacher's feedback and approved by the board of SPPA.

Said SPPA administrator Joanne Tan: 'We have some fixed topics such as basic biology, relationships, being able to tell the difference between love and infatuation, and peer pressure.'

Case studies are used to show the difference between a crush and real love.

For students in Secondary 3 and 4, the talks also cover pre-marital sex.

The consequences of relationships, such as unwanted pregnancy and abortion, are also broached.

The SPPA promotes abstinence but not exclusively. Said Ms Tan: 'Our main message is to put out all the facts and ask them to make a careful choice. Sex should be without guilt or painful consequences.' The talks also briefly touch on contraception.

Is homosexuality discussed?

It is mentioned in the context of growing up. Said Ms Tan: 'We tell them it is normal to feel confused at that age and provide a hotline if students want to ask questions.'

FAMILY LIFE SOCIETY

What is taught: The non-profit organisation directed by the Catholic Archbishop of Singapore has held talks in schools since 1985.

In the past five years, it has been invited to about 25 schools a year. Talks range from 40-minute sessions at assembly to four-hour workshops for children from 11 to 18 years of age.

More often than not, they are invited to secular schools. The syllabus focuses on sexuality and the person as a whole rather than just sex. The programme was set up by a group of doctors and parents.

Said principal programme executive Michelle Soliano-Lew: 'We develop materials based on the natural moral law. This is secular moral philosophy without any reference to God, religion, scripture or divine revelation.'

Topics include boy-girl relationships, pornography, pregnancy and choices, as well as abortion and its possible consequences. The talks promote a pro-life and pro-family message.

Is homosexuality discussed? The society's stance is that the act is wrong.

'But we do not condemn the person,' said Ms Soliano-Lew.

'We tell them that at their age, having an infatuation with a same sex peer is normal, but it does not mean they are homosexual or are going to be homosexual.'

They mention it is illegal but a religious point of view is not used.

The classes also discuss pre-marital sex, focusing on the positive worth of abstinence, such as not having to worry about pregnancy.

FEI YUE COMMUNITY SERVICES

What is taught: Fei Yue Community Services, an independent society, started in 1991 as Fei Yue Family Service Centre. It was founded by the Chinese Christian Mission, a faith-based organisation.

It has been conducting sex education classes since 2007. These are held in 18 schools. But the classes are not just for students. Instead, said Madam Evelyn Khong, manager and family life educator, classes are held for parents or parents with teens.

The curriculum includes discussions about changes and differences in the physical, social, emotional and intellectual attributes of males and females.

The classes for parents and teenagers are four hours long on weekends, with role-play segments.

Love, sex and relationships are explored but religion is not raised.

Said Madam Khong: 'We advocate 'save sex' in that students should save sex for their dream man or woman.

'Sex is not bad. However, sex outside marriage can have consequences like guilt, fear and disease.'

Abortion and its physical, emotional and social consequences are also discussed.

Is homosexuality discussed?

Madam Khong said it is seldom discussed, apart from focusing on the fact that nature has made individuals what they are meant to be.

'If you are made a boy, you're meant to be a boy and vice-versa. We see homosexuality more as a lifestyle choice, so we do not discuss that.

'Ultimately, they have to decide what lifestyle they choose and the price they have to pay,' she said.

The classes also focus on communication so that parents will be equipped with the tools to beef up their children's self-esteem and ability to say 'no' to unwanted encounters.

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY SINGAPORE

What is taught: Local charity Focus on the Family Singapore was launched in 2002 to strengthen Singapore families.

It is based on Focus on the Family from the United States, a pro-life, Christian organisation.

A four-hour interactive workshop called No Apologies caters to youths aged 12 to 18. Introductory assembly talks are also conducted for secondary schools.

Since 2002, 44 schools have taken part. The schools that take part are mainly non-religious schools.

Said a spokesman for Focus on the Family: 'No Apologies seeks to empower and challenge young people to choose abstinence from sex until marriage so as to live life with no regrets.'

It does not call pre-marital sex wrong.

In keeping with the positive message of abstinence, graphic or detailed material regarding pre-martial sex that is considered disturbing or demeaning to participants is not used.

The advantages as well as disadvantages of premarital sex, such as abortion, are discussed.

Religion is not discussed as the programme is tailored for all students.

Is homosexuality discussed?

Homosexuality is not part of the standard curriculum but can be addressed upon request as a separate additional workshop.


This article was first published in The Straits Times.

 
 
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