Then came sex ed in junior college, an unfortunate job for one of my teachers. She was otherwise a calm, capable teacher, but here she looked flustered at having to talk to us about sex. "Err, just don't do IT," she kept repeating in a variety of ways, almost pleading with us for a good twenty minutes.
"So... how many of you think it's OK to do 'it' before marriage?" she asked, looking slightly relieved at nearing the end of the lesson. We looked around at each other. Dead silence in the room. Then one of my classmates piped up cheerfully, "I think it's OK what. If you want to do it, just do it lah!"
My teacher was stunned. "Err, no.. It's not OK! You're not supposed to do it. You're not supposed to do it before marriage OK? It's not good." We smirked at her discomfort. The lesson was over.
Years later, when I joined the teaching service, I met several other teachers who just didn't feel comfortable talking to their students about sex. Nevertheless, being form teachers, they all had to go through with it, possibly staging a repeat of what happened to my poor teacher many years ago.
And this is partly why I support the Ministry of Education's latest controversial statement about sex education guidelines.
Firstly, the core team of teachers who will be tasked to teach sex ed "must be comfortable teaching the subject" and must "have rapport with students". ('Social media drives MOE to revise sex education', AsiaOne, 4 July 2012)
On a practical note, I'm glad teachers who are clearly uncomfortable with this (and, through no fault of their own, pitifully inept) will no longer need to conduct sex ed. And this is good for the students too, who will surely benefit from a more effective sex ed talk from teachers who are comfortable enough to speak candidly and openly.
Next, MOE states that the teachers "must practise mainstream values that are aligned with MOE". This has been of concern to many people, who question the looseness of the phrase "mainstream values" and the difficulties involved in assessing just who "practises" these values - and I share their confusion.
Even MOE's clarification late on 4 July did not shed much light on exactly how the "mainstream values" and "wholesomeness" of teachers would be judged. With their clarification, MOE implied there was no need for teachers to "practice what they preach", that they [MOE] would "not be prying into teachers’ personal lives" but reaffirmed that the "the teachers must have 'mainstream values'... and have the life experience, maturity and wholesome values". ("MOE 'won't be prying into teachers' personal lives'", TODAY, 5 Jul 2012)
Since MOE has apparently pledged not to pry into the private lives of teachers - yet wants these sex ed teachers to "practise mainstream values", I infer that they will have to make their judgment based on public lives. So, perhaps only (publicly) married teachers (who are not publicly having affairs) will be asked to take on sex education - after all, maybe single teachers could (privately) be having pre-marital sex or could be gay (or both)!
Of course, we all know that being married or outwardly heterosexual or even religious is no guarantee for "wholesome values" (whatever that means) - but then how else would MOE judge their teachers' values? Confusion abounds.
But what I appreciate about this whole matter is what I read between the lines - that MOE recognises not all of their teachers adhere to, or even believe in this supposed "mainstream", abstinence-based, "wholesome values" message that sets itself in opposition to "non-mainstream views on sex". ('Social media drives MOE to revise sex education', AsiaOne, 4 July 2012)
In fact, MOE has set a very realistic target of identifying "at least 10" teachers per school who are aligned with their "mainstream values". So for the other non-sex-ed teachers (in some schools, they may even be in the majority), it is good that they will be freed from the burden of having to preach something they are not comfortable with - or perhaps don't even believe in. And don't you think the students may ask them questions too?
When I was 18, my sex ed consisted of acquaintances getting abortions, the un-asked-for (and slightly disturbing) sex tips from classmates, the suicide of schoolmates due to relationship problems, having both straight and gay friends, and the complicated relationships, and convoluted stories of rampant promiscuity of so many people in university or in the working world. As young people, we had to make sense of all that on our own.
Today, the kids are getting their sex ed from these things and more. There's the frenzy of social media, 'sexting', pornography, advertisements and movies laced with sex, and the overload of information of all sorts. It is for these reasons and more that MOE has instituted the revisions to sex ed - and one hopes, for the better.
Join publichouse.sg on Facebook: