FOR SA refutes ‘false statements’ by DBE, continues to call for parents to have say on sex education

Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) which has been at the forefront of calls for greater consultation about proposed new Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) lesson plans for public schools today dismissed as “utter nonsense” statements by the Department of Basic Education and in certain media reports, saying that it had misled and confused the public regarding CSE.

“It is clear that the Department has only itself to blame for the confusion it has caused by its woeful lack of consultation with parents and teachers,” says FOR SA in a hard-hitting press release in which it refutes several DBE statements about FOR SA that have been reported in media — and points out that the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga’s widely-reported statement last week that parents can opt out of the CSE curriculum is misleading and is not an option for the vast majority of South Africans.

For SA’s press release also accuses the DBE of pushing CSE despite the existence of independent reports  (2018 and 2019) based on CSE-developer-and-promoter UNESCO’s own data, which indicate that the serious issues of teenage pregnancies, HIV/STD infections and sexual abuse that it is supposed to positively address, have become significantly worse.

Dealing with statements that have recently been reported in the media, FOR SA says it has been accused of distributing “outdated” lesson plans (i.e. lesson plans being used during the current pilot phase) which are “not an accurate reflection of the new lesson plans”.

“FOR SA confirms that the content made available on its website are actual photos of the Scripted Lesson Plans (SLPs) (i.e. Educator Guides and Learner Books), which the Department itself provided to Members of Parliament following the Department’s briefing to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Basic Education on 17 September 2019.  If the information the Department provided to them was in fact ‘outdated’, the Department either deliberately or negligently misled the Committee by providing incorrect information.

“Curiously, the Department’s Press Release dated 13 November 2019 describes the content released by the Department on the same day as ‘SLPs being used by the Department in pilot phase’. It is clear that the Department has only itself to blame for the confusion it has caused by its woeful lack of consultation with parents and teachers. Both the Federation of School Governing Bodies (FEDSAS) and various teacher unions are understandably and publicly protesting the way that the Department has circumvented process and marginalised key stakeholders,” says the press release.

It continues: “Having compared the content released by FOR SA with the content now released by the Department, we note that – while the content differs in some respects – all of the content released by FOR SA appears in the content released by the Department (except for the extract from the Grade 8 Educator Guide, instructing teachers to describe what happens during vaginal, oral and anal intercourse.) Various other references to anal and oral sex appear however in the Department’s SLPs.

“We specifically point out that – contrary to the Department’s statements that ‘masturbation will not be discussed at this stage’, it very much still forms part of the content released by the Department (see Grade 7 Educator Guide, page 70 and Grade 7 Learner Book, page 35). Contrary to the Department’s statements also, the controversial graphic image of the insertion of a female condom, is in the content released by the Department (see Grade 9 Educator Guide, page 91).  While it may be true that other images, including of two adults in bed, have been circulating on social media – these cannot be attributed to FOR SA.

“Likewise, the statement (on the southafrican.com website) that ‘FOR SA expressed their concerns that condoms would be handed out along with stationery during these sex education classes’, is completely untrue and demonstrates the worst of shoddy journalism and ‘fake news’. Our research has revealed that this statement likely derives from a Facebook page purporting to represent the Department of Basic Education.

“FOR SA further refutes the Department’s statements that there is ‘no new content being added’.  While it may be true that CSE has been taught in schools since 2000,  it is patently false and misleading to state that there is ‘no new content’.  UNESCO’s report in 2017, entitled ‘CSE SCALE-UP IN PRACTICE – CASE STUDIES FROM EASTERN AND SOUTHERN AFRICA’ states on page 59 that ‘After the release of the ITGSE [International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education] by UNESCO in 2009, South Africa undertook a process of reviewing the Life Skills and Life Orientation curricula against these guidelines in 2011. Where gaps were identified, scripted lessons plans were developed and are currently being piloted with the aim of integrating them into the curricula, thus ensuring alignment to international standards.’  The very fact that the materials now released by the Department on their website differs in places from the printed materials provided to Parliament earlier this month, is further evidence that the CSE content is being (and has been) substantially revised.”

Regarding its observation that the DBE has “apparently ignored” independent reports on the results of CSE showing that teen pregnancies, HIV/STD infections and sexual abuse became worse, FOR SA says that “given that the department has a constitutional duty to act in the best interests of the child, it is unacceptable that they continue to push this questionable material on learners”.

On the opt-oput issue, the FOR SA press release points out that DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga has clarified last week’s statement by Motshekga in response to a question by DA MP T Marchesi.  He said the minister’s statement that “parents have a right to opt out of the current curriculum provided they can produce an alternative curriculum that meets CAPS criteria for competence”, did not mean that parents are allowed to “opt out of specific sections of the curriculum”. Instead, the “opt out” statement made by the minister referred to the option parents have to opt out of the entire CAPS curriculum and replace it with an equivalent alternative curriculum from other recognised education providers.  “This means that concerned parents will either have to home-school their children or send them to private schools, which for the vast majority of South Africans is simply not an option,” says FOR SA.

“The DBE’s statements on “no opt out” – combined with the woeful lack of proper consultation – fuels parental concerns that it will be compulsory for their children to be taught on sex and sexuality in South Africa’s public schools.  This is deeply problematic because, unlike in mathematics where 1 + 1 will always equal 2, it is impossible to teach on this subject without integrating values.  The Department’s position is also in direct contravention to international law, sections 9 and 15 of the South African Constitution and the Department’s own White Paper on Education and Training which in Chapter 4.3 states that ‘Parents or guardians have the primary responsibility for the education of their children, and have the right to be consulted by state authorities with respect to the form that education should take and to take part in its governance. Parents have the inalienable right to choose the form of education which is best for their children, particularly in the early years of schooling, whether provided by the State or not, subject to reasonable safeguards which may be required by law. The parents’ right to choose includes choice of the language, cultural or religious foundation of the child’s education, with due respect to the rights of others and the rights of choice of the growing child’,” says FOR SA.

“FOR SA therefore continues to call on the Department to respect parents’ rights to decide what is (or is not) appropriate when teaching their children about sex and sexuality.  Should they fail to do so, this will amount to State indoctrination, which harks back to the system of education adopted by government under the Apartheid regime,” concludes the press release.

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