Selma Ikela Windhoek Religious leaders and several teachers have expressed concern over the graphic content learners will be exposed to in the newly introduced topic, Comprehensive Sexual Education (CSE) as part of the subject, Life Skills, on the grounds it encourages learners to engage in sex and inappropriate sexual contact. The pastors object that the syllabus even expounds on topics, such as anal sex and same-sex relationships, but proponents of the programme say the more controversial topics only come up in later years, as from Grade 7. Life Skills as a non-promotional subject is taught in schools from Grade 4 to 12 and CSE is integrated under the holistic wellness topic, where in Grade 4 it focuses on puberty, good and bad touch and the risks of skin cancer, amongst others. There has lately also been an outcry from parents and community members, who feel CSE is not age-appropriate and culturally relevant for local learners. Church leaders raised their concerns about the CSE manual after the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture, Sanet Steenkamp, made a presentation at the #BeFree movement event organised First Lady Monica Geingos on Monday. The #BeFree movement takes the form of youth-focused debates and panel discussions on topics, including the high rate of school dropouts, poor academic performance, alcohol and drug abuse, cyber-bullying, teenage pregnancies, dating, violence, including incest, among others. Geingos on Monday hosted an information-sharing session with church and community leaders from Khomas Region to introduce them to the #BeFree movement and to discuss possible areas of collaboration and partnership with the aim of working towards a common goal of strengthening families and empowering the youth. Reacting to Steenkamp’s presentation, a local pastor said: “CSE is from the devil” and that most parents were not aware of the explicit content of the manual. Therefore, several pastors called for another opportunity and platform for consultation on the CSE manual. One said the CSE manual should be sensitive to the country’s culture and the predominant religion. Hence, the participation of church leaders, parents and people in rural areas needs to be considered. “We want to know our children are safe in schools,” the pastor lamented. In her presentation, Steenkamp explained that CSE does not focus on sexual intercourse, nor does it teach learners how to have sex. “It does not encourage young people to have sex. It does not teach young people how to take away their innocence by engaging in promiscuity.” She noted that it also does not follow an ‘abstinence until marriage approach’. Steenkamp said the manual proposes abstinence as an option, but aims to respond to the reality of the situation that not everybody will abstain. She said the CSE manual by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is under review. Namibia has made its input on issues relevant to the country. She said the manual was produced for 20 countries and serves as guideline. It does not say teachers must tick off everything. “We have our own curriculum and syllabi. If you go through it, it talks about sexual identity ,sexual intimacy, reproductive and sexual health, incest and rape. It talks about things we don’t want to talk about. “We have found that a sexual debut for many 13-year-old girls has not been a sugar daddy, but a family member (incest), or stepfather or [biological] father. We must move past feeling uncomfortable with topics such as this.” Steenkamp said for example in Grade 4, learners are taught about good and bad touch and only address baby dumping in Grade 9. In her presentation, she highlighted the high rate of HIV prevalence among the youth, pointing out that among 15 to 24 year olds there were on average 42 reported cases of new infections every week, according to a UNAIDS report in 2013. She also noted that last year, 4,076 learners dropped out of school due to pregnancy. “That’s not just a number. It is presented by a name, someone’s child, somebody’s sister, a personality, identity and a name. It is presented by someone with dreams and aspirations and not just numbers,” she remarked, adding that it involves a great loss of potential. She further said the Life Skills curriculum was reviewed in 2012 by UNICEF, UNFPA and UNESCO in 10 countries and it was found that key information was missing, inadequate and incorrectly represented. “In terms of sexual reproductive behaviour goals, Namibia emphasises abstinence over and over: ‘Don’t fall pregnant; don’t have sex.’ And yet, we avoided addressing sexual behaviour, such as homosexuality, geneder complexities and controversies surrounding abortion. “A number of topics were framed in a judgmental way,” Steenkamp said, adding that during lessons some teachers were also uncomfortable about referring to female anatomic parts by their names, but instead referred to the vagina as “Selima” and the penis as “Matheus”. Steenkamp said learners need to have correct, relevant and factual information about sexual education, because - like adults - they are sexual beings, yet critical thinking should be promoted.
2017-10-25 08:36:22 10 months ago