The controversy over the approval of four Christian organisations as external vendors for sex education in schools and institutions a few months ago seems considerably irrelevant when one speaks of the state of sex education in Singapore. Given the state of our city’s advancement and general achievements within the education system, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has to be singled out for its apparent laissez-faire attitude towards sex education. Despite developing a comprehensive “Growing Years” teaching guide to assist educators in the conduct of relevant lessons, little positive progress has been made.
If the lack of material is not the primary hurdle, then perhaps the apathy and lethargy of teachers would explain why many students are considerably misinformed and uninformed about the birds and the bees. Training for teachers is painfully inadequate. Evidently, the 16 hours of basic training conducted by the MOE is clearly insufficient to train teachers, and more importantly to get them comfortable discussing about sex with their students. As students feedback about how their teachers seem to be rigidly adhering to the prescribed materials, or merely regurgitating pre-prepared and monotonous information, the MOE needs to take more proactive steps to review and remedy the existing pedagogies and methodologies. Curiously, the National Institute of Education (NIE) had recently scrapped its “facilitating sexuality education” elective, even though weak sex education in schools can have serious ramifications. Avoidance is not the solution.
The quality and quantity of sex education training for teachers need to be dramatically enhanced; simultaneously, the programmes offered by the selected external vendors should be reviewed. Particular emphasis should be placed on the trainers conducting the various sessions. Besides the antiquated modes of sharing through lecture notes and slideshows, the MOE must incorporate aspects of discussions, sharing, and even mock sessions to expose the educators to a variety of possible scenarios. By training their ability to interact and discuss, it would significantly heighten their comfort in talking about the associated issues, and subsequently conversing with their students. Renowned international educators can be invited to give guest sessions for both teachers and students on how lessons should be conducted, naturally benefiting all parties. As a starting point, the MOE and NIE could consider the suggestion to not moralise issues on sex; for instance, when discussing about abstinence, rather than dismissing it as a “right” or “wrong” notion, get students to ponder over the consequences of their actions.
Parents and families have a part to play in the entire equation. With the need for them to complement what the teachers are doing in school, they need to shed their hesitancy and be more forthcoming in sharing about sex with their children. To expedite this process, they can easily turn to many organisations which are offering classes to assist parents who may feel uncomfortable talking about the issue. Sex cannot remain as a taboo.
Still, schools would remain as the most viable platform for sex education; after all, it is where kids spend most of their formative years in, and if their teachers do not tell them about sex, their friends and peers would. Issues on sexuality, homosexuality, and the relationship between sex and religion would only permeate as time goes by. If not enough is being done to help the teachers, who will be left to help the students?
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.