Complications over 'UNcomplicated' workshop

Complications over 'UNcomplicated' workshop

When Hwa Chong Institution student Agatha Tan put up a Facebook post on Tuesday lambasting her school's sex-ed workshop for being 'sexist' and 'bigoted' on Tuesday, the post went viral.

Ng Jun Sen takes a look at what happened.

WHAT:

A relationship and sexuality workshop that left a bad taste in people's mouths as netizens reacted to what appeared to be rather simplistic material about men and women.

FLASH POINTS:

The New Paper on Sunday speaks to six participants at the workshop that was meant for all JC1 students in the junior college.

At the heart of the matter for the students is how the material portrayed the sexes.

JC1 student James says: "They drew the outline of two brains, representing a boy's and a girl's. In the boy's brain, they wrote things like video games and other stuff. But in the girl's brain, they drew spaghetti."

He explains that the facilitators were trying to show that the female thought processes are usually "all over the place".

Some laughed it off but James believes many female students were offended.

A female student, who prefers to be known as Alice, questions the approach. "I thought it was a strange way of explaining it. It felt like I was not made up of the same stuff as the boys."

A female student who declined to be named says: "It was one-sided and stereotypical. The talk seemed like they were trying to make me think I'm inferior."

She recalls a segment in which a facilitator asked if it was possible for men and women to be best friends with each other.

Says the student: "We all gave her a unanimous yes, it is possible. I know many good male friends myself, so it has to be true."

But the facilitator said that was wrong and a "best friend relationship" cannot happen between the genders.

"She said if a guy and a girl hit it off, it is known as a 'friendationship' - a fusion of 'friends' and 'relationship'," says the student.

"Basically, it means more than just friends. Not everyone was happy about this because it seems so untrue."

Says James: "The girls feel like they are portrayed as oversensitive while the guys are shown to be cool and calm."

Other students at the workshop felt that gay and lesbian issues were not addressed.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?

Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) said it would be conducting its own sex-ed classes. An online petition purportedly created by some members of the school's alumni called for the suspension of the workshop. It has received nearly 500 signatures to date. The Education Ministry also said that the workshop would cease at the end of the year.

FACILITATORS' RESPONSE

Workshop facilitators Focus on the Family Singapore (FOTF) issued a statement on Friday evening defending its programme, noting that 73 per cent of workshop participants from HCI rated it "good" or "very good".

The facilitators at the Oct 4 workshop were also rated highly, with 87.7 per cent of students giving them good or very good ratings, it said.

"Since its launch in 2013, our 'It's UNcomplicated' workshops have consistently received positive feedback."

The programme has been attended by 14,000 students across 13 schools here, it added.

The decision to stop the workshop had been made earlier in the year, and not as a direct result of the Facebook posting and ensuing furore.

It addressed Agatha's remarks about a 34-page handbook issued during the workshop, saying that it will ensure that the style and tone of its programmes would "give less room for misinterpretation".

"There is increasing research that supports the course content, such as neurological studies showing how male-female brain differences may contribute to generalised differences in behaviours between the two genders."

"In the segment about male-female differences, the objective is to help participants understand more about the opposite sex, so they are better equipped to communicate and interact with them."

It also said it has offered to have a dialogue with the students.

ngjunsen@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Oct 12, 2014.
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