Concerns about revising sex ed in schools
On Jan 4, following a news report about possible changes to the Sexuality Education Programme in schools here, AWARE sent the following letter to Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, Director-General of Education Ho Peng, Health Promotion Board (HPB) CEO Ang Hak Seng and Director of the HPB Youth Health Division Dr K Vijaya.
Dear Sirs and Mesdames,
We read with much concern the recent news article “ Abstinence over contraception?” (The New Paper, Dec 26 2011).
According to the report, the Ministry of Education is in the final stages of revising the Sexuality Education Programme (SEP), and the revamped SEP will have a greater emphasis on abstinence and a diminished focus on contraception.
We write to ask if The New Paper report was accurate, and for more information about the reasons for the revision and the key changes that will be made to the programme.
It is AWARE’s stand that accurate and responsible information on contraceptive methods is a crucial part of sexuality education, particularly for upper secondary students and students in junior colleges and centralized institutes.
According to the 2006 Student Health Survey conducted by the Health Promotion Board, the median age of respondents’ first experience of sexual intercourse is 15. It is vital that young Singaporeans be equipped, at a time when many of them start to become sexually active, with the necessary information on how to protect themselves and their partners from sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.
Surveys have also found that parents typically do not engage their children in conversations about safe sex. This puts the onus on schools to provide students with the necessary information.
Diminishing the SEP content on contraception will worsen an already worrying situation. According to a Bayer Healthcare survey conducted in 2011, 8 in 10 young people in Singapore do not use contraception when having sex with a new partner. This is one of the highest rates of unprotected sex among the nine Asia Pacific countries surveyed. The survey also highlighted the confusion over contraceptive options among young people in Singapore. Highly unreliable contraceptive methods, such as the “withdrawal” method, were considered to be effective forms of birth control.
It is likely that our youths will engage in pre-marital sex given that the age of first sex engagement is about 15 and that of first marriage is between 27.7 to 30. If our schools do not provide this education, then our youths will turn more to the Internet and their friends, which are both unreliable sources.
It has been accepted that taking a moralistic approach towards sex education will not be effective. The Ministry’s stand in the past has been that as society becomes less conservative, sex education must move forward to provide information on contraception. The Breaking Down Barriers programme was developed in 2006 to address the rising trend of STDs among youths. It is odd that the Ministry would want to back peddle on this sex education programme. Since 2006, society has less, not more, conservative.
AWARE believes it is important for young women and men to have access to reliable information about contraception and be empowered to insist on the use of contraception. This is a fundamental part of their sexual and reproductive rights that should not be taken away from them.
We would like to recommend that MOE consult relevant stakeholders and members of the public in this discussion about sexuality education in our schools, before launching the revised SEP. Educating our youths about responsible sexual behaviour is an important national issue and it deserves input and perspectives from all Singaporeans.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Read the Ministry of Education’s response here.