The new programme is reported to focus more on abstinence than on the use of contraception. It is also expected to modify a video, used in the programme, on the use of condoms.
The paper said “[in] January this year, some Catholic school principals met MOE officials and had asked for a segment on the use of condoms to be modified so that it better matched Catholic beliefs.”
“The Catholic community feels such teachings are contrary to their faith and should not be taught in Catholic schools,” reports TNP. There are currently some 30 Catholic schools in Singapore.
TNP also reported that “Ms Ho Peng, MOE’s Director-General, together with members of the HPB (Health Promotion Board), had met with the chairman of the Catholic School Management Committees and principals and other educators” on the matter.
The MOE declined to provide details beyond saying that “inputs will help ensure that the refreshed BDB will be able to engage our students better and help them understand the risks and consequences of engaging in sexual activity, and make responsible decisions regarding sexual health issues.”
The ministry added that parents will have the choice to opt their children out of the refreshed BDB programme.
Since the TNP report, however, some have raised concerns on several issues, among which is the question of how widely the MOE has consulted before it came up with the draft for the revised programme.
Reverend Dr Yap Kim Hao, Pastoral Advisor to the Free Community Church, said in a Facebook note: “I am alarmed that contraception may have to give some way to abstinence in a revised version of a Sexuality Education Programme (SEP) of the Ministry of Education and that Catholic schools should find fewer issues with it.”
“There is a rising trend in recent years of sexual activity among [the young],” he said. “It calls for clear, informed and comprehensive education based on respect and human rights. Conservative religious communities in their abstinence only sexuality education programmes have not been able to arrest the alarming trend of sexual activity and have been largely ignored by the youths. We cannot afford to revert to put more focus on abstinence and ought to pursue more innovative and comprehensive sexuality education.”
Rev Yap says providing “information about contraception is the realistic approach to prevent the rise of sexually transmitted diseases.”
Similarly, Dr Martha Lee, a clinical sexologist who has worked with people with sexual issues, wrote in a letter to the Straits Times: “While claiming that the revision is to ‘ensure that it is updated and relevant’ to students, I worry that MOE is in effect diluting the programme to make it more palatable for one religious denomination.”
She says that “while it is true that abstinence is the only 100% fool-proof way to not get pregnant or catch a sexually transmitted infection (STI), how likely is it that our youths who are delaying marriage for further studies and career advancement will all only have sex and wait until marriage? At what point are they entitled to receive comprehensive sexuality education? And from where?”
She adds that there “needs to be a clear differentiation between what we hold dear as our personal values and religious beliefs, which form our individual choices; and what the state ought to do right by our people. State-wide educational programs should not be dictated by which communities are the most vocal.”
In 2009, the MOE suspended the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) programme to 11 schools after some parents raised concerns about it. The CSE was developed by the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) and it had conducted workshops on it in the schools. The suspension was despite MOE saying that “schools that engaged AWARE found that the content and messages of the sessions conducted were appropriate for their students and adhered to guidelines to respect the values of different religious groups. The schools did not receive any negative feedback from students who attended the workshops and talks or their parents.”
MOE’s decision to suspend the CSE was because “some suggested responses in the instructor guide are explicit and inappropriate, and convey messages which could promote homosexuality or suggest approval of pre-marital sex.”
In 2010, Aware decided not to offer its sexuality education programme to schools altogether. (See here.)
To avoid further unhappiness and confusion about the upcoming introduction of the revised sexuality programme, the MOE should be more forthcoming with information on the revised programme itself, and also on the process by which it consults stakeholders, and to do so before the programme is introduced in the schools.