Sex education in schools? No way!
By Jaevion Nelson
IT IS unfathomable that the governors of the education system and educators are, seemingly, so misinformed about the purpose of quality education and what it entails. The argument that 'school is a place for learning and not for sex' in response to the (revived) debate around access to safe sex information and commodities in schools is evidence of our absurdly uninformed thinking about the purpose of education.
How can we reasonably say school is a place for learning and not for sex if we are asked to equip adolescents with the information and tools needed to protect themselves? Are we comfortable with children learning about such an important aspect of human existence from all and sundry? An article published in University of the West Indies' Caribbean Review of Gender Studies argues that "young people are teaching themselves about sexual practice and the gender roles that should underpin that practice". So, if we refuse to teach them about sex and sexuality in the classroom, what are they teaching themselves and where do they get this information? Perhaps from pop culture and (the lewd) dancehall music which strongly encourage 'daggering', violence, forced sex and promiscuity. In that case, let's punish them for listening to the instructions of those who wish to teach them instead of accepting responsibility for the consequence of our prejudice, fears, inaction, ignorance and misguided morals.
When my colleagues and I advocate for comprehensive sex education, which includes abstinence at the onset, it is to protect adolescents - not promote early sexual activity. The last thing we want is for our underperforming education system to become brothels. We just want to improve the quality of education. According to a 2000 United Nations Children's Fund report, quality education includes, inter alia, "content that is reflected in relevant curricula and materials for the acquisition of basic skills, especially in the areas of literacy, numeracy and skills for life [and] outcomes that encompass knowledge, skills and attitudes, and are national goals for education and positive participation in society."
The ministry of education's mission statement "to provide strategic leadership and policy direction for quality education for all Jamaicans to maximise their potential, contribute to national development and compete effectively in the global economy" is so aligned, but is this really the case?
In 2004, before enrolling as a university student, I met Bernard, a heterosexual man who was openly living with HIV for a number of years, at a workshop at my church. He revealed this 'shocking' information at the end of the workshop when I (and others) were supposedly now sensitised about how HIV is transmitted. I'm very ashamed that I refused to hug Bernard when my pastor asked all us to show solidarity in the fight against the discrimination of those who are HIV infected. Thankfully, he was patient to understand my fears as I negotiated with myself all I learned regarding HIV transmission. I was one of, if not the very last, several persons to hug him. I don't have this fear anymore, but I wonder if I had been exposed to comprehensive sex education if I would have reacted to Bernard in such a manner? What if I had experimented with sex in high school? Would I be one of so many young Jamaicans living with HIV?
My soft skills, which allow me to contribute to national development were not a feature of my formal learning. For example, I learned about social graces from a very tattered copy of my mother's Student Companion I found while in primary school, and a plaque in my neighbour's kitchen. I got some instruction at church camp as well. I learned about civics at the end of grade nine because my mother forced me to sit five Jamaica School Certificate exams. What about children who don't have such opportunities? Shouldn't there be a central place to learn to participate positively in society?
What is the purpose of an education if not to equip us with information to exist with dignity as 'decent' people? Instruction about sex and sexuality is just as important as mathematics, English language and science. We can't just leave everything up to informal learning and then complain about the so called lack of values and attitudes in society, particularly among the younger generation. Many of us do not realise that our political leaders are to an extent informed about what policy actions are necessary to address the situation with our adolescents where sex and sexuality are concerned. Why else would they commit to the 2008 Mexico City Ministerial Declaration around investing in comprehensive sexuality education and increased access to health services for young people?