It’s time to demystify sex education

It’s time to demystify sex education

Last week, social media went into overdrive following what was said to be a new set of books that the Ministry of Education and Training had disseminated to schools around the country.
One of the books was said to have “explicit sex content” because it had a picture of two people who were engaged in sex and it explained what was happening. The ministry denied that it had dispatched such a book.
Another book at the centre of the hocus pocus contained political songs. In this case the Ministry acknowledged the existence of such a book even though they were alarmed at the typing errors that were in it.
I really have nothing much to say about this book as my main aim is to address the issue of sexual education in schools.

The third was a Life Skills Grade 8 book where a page was photographed and distributed on social media. The page has body parts written in English and learners are expected to translate those words into their mother tongue and slang.
Parents, teachers, some media houses and the general public were up in arms as in their opinion that the content is not suitable for children. I must point out that the book is for Grade 8 learners.
In this class, we have learners who are aged 13 and above depending on the part of the country where the school is situated. In essence, high school teachers are saying they are not ready to teach these teenagers about their body parts.

Let me remind the good teachers that the government of Lesotho is a signatory to the ministerial commitment on Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Sexual and Reproductive Health services for adolescents and young people.
This followed an exercise that was carried out in October 2014 when different stakeholders (local authorities, school proprietors, youth, communities, church leaders and others) signed Gatekeepers SRHR statement of commitment. This activity was coordinated by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health.
It is in alignment with the principles of Comprehensive Sexual Education that the Ministry of Education through its department called National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) developed the Life Skills Curriculum and sourced appropriate textbooks for the effective implementation of the curriculum.

However, as a Mosotho child who was born and raised in the 20th century, I somehow understand where the teachers are coming from. These are the people who were raised by parents who considered sex talk taboo. When a young adolescent girl started menarche, we were made to believe it is because she was sexually active.
I remember as a little girl that when my mother sent me to buy sanitary towels, the elderly lady at the local café ensured that she wrapped them in a newspaper, so that nobody would see what I had bought. At my age, I was not supposed to be seen carrying sanitary towels lest I would be confused to be sexually active by my peers.

Our prejudices and stereotypes with regard to sex and sexual education should not hinder us from doing what is right for our children and their future. One researcher that I like following who writes about sexuality and sexual education without mincing her words is Dr Khau. In one of her writings, she points out that the involvement of the church in education in Lesotho has to a large extent affected the way sex and sexuality education is implemented in Lesotho.
For example, she says the ethos of the Catholic Church prohibits the teaching of sex education because it includes teaching about contraception and abortion which are prohibited among Catholics and thus cannot be taught in Catholic schools.

However, the uproar on social media about the Life Skills book is an indication that it is not only the Catholic school teachers that have a problem with teaching sex education. Even teachers from other church schools and those in government schools are not comfortable teaching sexual education.
One of the questions they kept asking was: “How do I teach a learner body parts in my mother tongue when the Sesotho words are so demeaning and offensive?”

My sentiments are that we have made those words derogatory and taboo as a society. It is time for us to demystify them and make them acceptable for use.
There is no better place than the classroom to start our project. It is upon teachers and parents to ensure that our children get the best Life Skills education without us hindering it.
If we could move from the era where girls were made to believe that menstruation was a sign of being sexually active to where they accept it as part of growing up, we surely can embrace the use of our mother tongue to explain body parts.

We also survived being told “not to play with boys because they will give us babies.” Change is not easy, hence we need to take Life Skills education one step at a time.
As a nation, it is only last year when the Minister of Health was lamenting about the huge number of young girls who had gone through illegal and unsafe abortions.
The education sector must ensure that such incidents are curbed and I believe the most appropriate way to do so is by fully and effectively implementing Comprehensive Sexual Education.

By Kelello Rakolobe

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