KUALA LUMPUR – The debate over the introduction of sex education in schools continues to rage in Malaysia as it is still being regarded as taboo.
Contrary to what many people think, sex education does not merely revolve around educating children on sexual behaviour – in reality, it encompasses a wide range of facets, from spiritual, moral and health to its implications.
Groups like the National Union of Teaching Profession (NUTP) and Parent Action Group for Education, as well as parents, have acknowledged the need to introduce sex education in schools to check immoral behaviour, which is usually the consequence society has to bear with when their children resort to surfing the Internet for information on sex.
Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim was recently reported as saying that from next year, sex education would be imparted to teenagers aged 16 and above.
She said the module was targeted at male students to help them understand reproductive and sexual health which, in turn, could curb social ills affecting the family institution.
But the question that arises here is why are only the male teenagers being singled out for the lessons on sex?
PRIMARY OR SECONDARY SCHOOL
Currently, topics covering the reproductive functions and healthcare are already being taught in science, Islamic studies, moral studies, and physical and health education.
Last month at the start of the new school year, the health science textbook for Year Five pupils came under public scrutiny when its sex education content stirred up a debate over whether children that age should learn about the process of getting pregnant and be exposed to terms like vagina, penis and sperm, as well as diagrams of the reproductive system.
Should schoolchildren be introduced to formal sex education at primary schools?
Commenting on this, Dr Muhammad Muhsin Ahmad Zahari, a senior lecturer and consultant psychiatrist at Universiti Malaya’s Department of Medicine, said he found nothing wrong in educating primary schoolchildren on sex and the reproductive process, but stressed that it should be taught in an easy-to-understand manner and in stages.
“It has become a necessity in this era and, more importantly, it will deter them from engaging in unwanted activities. If children are not given proper information (on sex and reproduction) at a young age, they will be able to get it easily from websites.
“It is proper for pupils at the second level (Year Four, Five and Six) to be introduced to certain elements of sex education but it must be age-appropriate and comprise the basic facts. They certainly can’t be exposed to it fully,” he told Bernama.
STARTING WITH THE BASIC INFORMATION
Muhammad Muhsin said Year Three or Four pupils could, for a start, be taught about the male and female anatomy, before more details were revealed to them in Year Five.
“They must be taught about social interactions between men and women, as well as the importance of maintaining their self-respect. Importantly, there is no need to provide any pictures or words to reflect sexual relations,” he said.
He said the subject’s scope could be widened in Year Six to prepare the children for the next stage of their school life, because their curiosity level usually peaks when they step into Form One.
“Year Six pupils should be cautioned against excessive socialising between boys and girls. And, in secondary school, they should get to know the risks associated with sexual activities and the ill effects of leading a liberal lifestyle. They should also be told about the legal aspect, that it is a crime to have sex with an underage partner,” he pointed out.
NUTP President Hashim Adnan opined that pupils in as early as Year Five could be exposed to sex education, but stressed that stimulating materials which depicted the performance of a sexual act were strictly out of bounds.
“There are limits to what children can be taught. There’s no need to explain in detail what takes place before a woman becomes pregnant because all that information is beyond a child’s understanding,” he said.
He said it was more important for children to comprehend issues like relationships, religion, chastity, and what they should do or refrain from doing.
Hashim hoped the authorities would review the content of the Year Five health science textbook to determine whether it was appropriate for 11-year-olds, adding that this was to ensure that it would not have any adverse effects on their moral upbringing.
CONTENT NOT EXCESSIVE
Norhadibah Hussaini, who teaches physical and health education at a school in Perak, said the Year Five health science textbook did not “cross the limits” and was suitable for pupils.
“For years, the health education syllabus carried content on sex education, including information on the menstrual cycle, but, perhaps, it was not as detailed as it is this year. Nevertheless, the content in this year’s textbook is not all that explicit.
“And, there’s wrong in it as it doesn’t show pictures of people having sex… it’s all about the reproductive system. In an era where information can be easily obtained from the Internet, children should be exposed to sex education at a comparatively earlier age,” she said.
She said what was more important was the approach and methodology taken by the teacher to explain the topic to his or her pupils so that they understood what they were being taught.
“Teachers have an important role to play… they can’t afford to be shy and should explain to their pupils what they can do and what they can’t do, and stress on the noble qualities they should adopt. Don’t teach half-heartedly, without taking into consideration the emotional effects it (the lessons) would have on the children,” she said.
PARENTS AIR THEIR VIEWS
Civil servant Huda Mohamad Syed, 32, expressed her support for sex education to begin at the primary school level as she felt that only formal teaching could prevent pupils from becoming confused or having the wrong perceptions of sex when they eventually find out about it through television or the Internet.
Huda, who has an eight-year-old daughter, said it was also the parents’ responsibility to explain to their children should they have any doubts over what they learnt in school.
“At the primary school level, children are still naive and will accept everything they are taught, without being overly curious about the subject. But the knowledge they gain will be of help to them when they become teenagers.
“And, because they have been taught about it by their teachers and parents, at least they will have the basic knowledge of the reproductive system and how babies are conceived,” she said.
Homemaker Suzielawati Rahman, 36, said although she supported sex education, the subject material must be vetted carefully to ensure that it was appropriate enough for children that age.
“It’s unnecessary to provide detailed explanations, or details of marital relations, as they are unsuitable or too graphic for children who are still in primary school.
“If sex education is to be made formal, it should also include teaching children the importance of being chaste and explaining to them which parts of their body should not be touched or seen by others,” said the mother of a boy aged 11 and girl, aged five.
Syahrulnizam Ahmed Amin, 44, an engineer with a private company, felt that it was not proper to expose young children to the detailed mechanics of the reproductive process as they were not mature enough to tell the difference between moral and immoral behaviour. Instead, he added, a more appropriate time to introduce sex education to them would be at the secondary school stage. – BERNAMA