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Make sex education part of schools’ curricula

By COREY CONNELLY Sunday, April 20 2014

Is sex still taboo in Trinidad and Tobago?

This is the question being asked by stakeholders in the face of mounting concerns about the need to bolster the sex education component in the nation’s schools.

They argue that while some form of sex, education already exists in schools, through Human and Social Biology and Social Studies curricula (through Health and Family Life Education (HFLE)), it is not treated exclusively as a subject.

“My personal take is sex education should be recognised as a subject on the curriculum because children need to be given information,” says President of the National Parent-Teacher Association (NPTA) Zena Ramatali.

“It is not just about teaching them about sex but telling them about choices because children are contracting sexually-transmitted diseases and dying because of the lack of information.”

Ramatali said studies have shown that there has been an increase in reports of cancer of the cervix, largely because of the exposure to early sexual activity.

“So, I am all for education and the sharing of information, but the information must be relevant; to suit the different developmental stages,” she said.

As a means of getting consensus on a strategy for addressing sex education in schools, the NPTA has organised a national consultation for May 10.

Ramatali said although a venue is yet to be finalised, the forum, which caters to parents and teachers, will be held at a school in the Caroni Educational District.

Saying that the association continues to receive reports of alleged sexual activity in several primary and secondary schools, Ramatali said the views expressed during the consultation will inform the NPTA’s position on the issue.

Heightened concern about the need to implement a comprehensive sex education component in schools came in the wake of a recent report of alleged sexual activity at a secondary school in central Trinidad in which three female Form One students were caught performing oral sex on three of their male counterparts.

On April 8, Senior Chaguanas Magistrate Gillian David-Scotland also granted a couple $225,000 surety bail on charges of sexual assault on their daughter over a four-year period —between January 1, 2010 and February 28, 2014. The matter has been adjourned to May 5.

President of the Public Secondary Schools Principals Association, Ruben Hansraj, agreed that there is need for sex education to be dealt with more aggressively in the school system.

However, he was unsure as to the extent to which such an intervention will be welcomed by parents, teachers and other stakeholders.

“My personal view is that sex is still taboo in the society and we may get some opposition from parents....we may even have to specially train teachers to deal with that,” he said in a telephone interview.

“There could be some negatives surrounding it and parents might feel that the school is going too far in that direction. There might even be some problem with the subject being called ‘sex education’ and it may have to be called ‘ethics’ or something like that whereby children are taught to make informed choices by way of morality and spirituality.”

Hanraj said the overall breakdown in family life was causing illicit sexual behaviour among some students to become more prevalent in the society. He suggested that widespread consultation take place on the issue.

Counselling psychologist Anna Maria Mora also supports the need to implement a comprehensive sex education programme in schools.

“I really do think the time has come for it to be treated as an exclusive, examinable subject,” she said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

Referring to the report of sexual activity at the Central secondary school, Mora said the incident reflected the need for students to learn socially acceptable ways of channeling their sexual energy.

“From the time, children are nine and ten years-old, the reproductive system starts making a play. That is when their hormones are raging and when teachers are not in front of the classroom, they often find ways to channel that energy,” she said, calling for the implementation of a substitute teacher programme similar to what exists in developed countries.

Mora recalled that she had visited a secondary school around 10 am shortly before Carnival and noticed that about six classes were without teachers on a particular floor of the institution. One class, she learnt, did not have a Mathematics teacher for a whole term.

“When teachers are not around, students will exhibit their sex nature as well as aggression. So, they must be constantly supervised,” she said.

Mora said the problem of early exposure to sexual activity was compounded by the subliminal messages that are sent via advertisements and cultural activities.

She told Sunday Newsday: “We simulate sex in supposedly cultural activities, like modern dance and even in music and students must be conscious of that.”

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