In the wake of growing public concern about the introduction of Comprehensive Sexuality Education in SA schools, Cause for Justice (CFJ) last week met with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to get the facts about what is going on. This article is based on a report on the meeting by Ryan Smit, CFJ Executive Director and Legal Counsel. View the full report here.
While the Department of Basic Education (DBE) faces the difficult task of catering for children from vastly different social, economic and cultural backgrounds — including communities struggling with HIV infection and teenage pregnancies — there are grounds for serious concern about its decision to implement Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) at schools and about the process it is following.
So, concludes Ryan Smit CFJ executive director and legal counsel after a fact-finding meeting with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) Directorate of Health Promotion on Monday last week. Last week’s meeting was a sequel to his meetings with the DBE in August 2018 and April this year, in the context of the DBE’s proposed Draft Learner Pregnancy Policy, which promotes the delivery of CSE as a means to prevent and manage learner pregnancies.
What is known?
The CSE programme adopted by the government is apparently provided by UNESCO and UNFPA, and funded by USAID, says Smit. After reviewing progress on developing — and piloting at selected schools — scripted lesson plans (SLPs) for integrating CSE into life skills and life orientation curricula, these are some of CFJ’s findings:
- The new SLPs are expected to be mandatory
- parents were not involved or consulted in the development of the new CSE content
- the DBE has completed SLPs for Grades 4 to 12 and is currently developing SLPs for Grades R to 3
- the content has been piloted at some schools in five provinces.
Limited information is available on the results and reception of the school pilot projects. Concerning results from one such study include:
- Parents were not familiar with the SLP (new curriculum) content
- Life orientation educators said that they were not comfortable teaching the sexuality education part of the LO curriculum.
- Although SGBs and SMTs were in favour of the teaching of LO, in general, they did not support the LO curriculum, with responses ranging from no support to some support.
At his meeting with the DBE last Monday, he also learned about a related CSE textbook-writing project which is in the early development phase. He was told that Marlene Wasserman — aka Dr Eve — was not involved in SLP development but had been “unofficially” involved in giving inputs into the textbook project. He told the department CFJ’s concerns regarding Wasserman include her commercial interest because of her sex products store and her prior campaigning in support of pornography on subscription television.
Smit says international research on school-based CSE shows there is almost no evidence:
- that it is effective at reducing teen pregnancy or contracting STDs
- that it increases consistent condom use
- that it is significantly increasing teen abstinence.
Other research findings include that 26% of school-based CSE programmes correlated with negative effects on participants’ sexual health, e.g. increase in sexual initiation, STDs, number of partners, recent sex, paid sex, forced intercourse (rape), or a decrease in condom use.
CSE, as promoted by UNESCO, has also been criticised heavily for a wide variety of reasons, such as early sexualisation of children, promoting abortion, undermining family and ethical values, peddling deviant gender theories, alienating children from parents on the topic of the child’s sexuality, sexual choices and consequences, promoting a fictitious right to CSE and being influenced to a large extent by International Planned Parenthood Federation.
Smit says since there are no binding domestic or international legal obligations on SA to implement or provide CSE in schools or to out-of-school youth, and no evidence to support it from a public policy perspective, it is unclear what could be the rationale for its implementation. He speculates that UNESCO, UNFPA, USAID and / or their formal and informal affiliates and / or the funders behind these international bodies could be the driving force behind the provision of CSE to SA schools.
He lists the following as some of the unknowns about the implementation of CSE at schools:
- We don’t know what is in the new content (SLPs: educator guides and learner workbooks per grade), i.e. what the state wants to teach parents’ children about sex and sexuality.
- We don’t know whether parents and other stakeholders will be able to meaningfully contribute to or influence the content.
- We don’t know whether parents or children will be penalised if they choose to sit out one or more of the SLPs and / or choose to provide sex education at home or in other non-school settings.
- We don’t know whether provinces, individual schools and / or individual parents will be allowed to teach an alternative curriculum to the state’s sexuality education; or refrain from teaching, alter or replace certain parts of the national curriculum to the extent that they disagree with its contents.
What can be done?
He submits that the best interest of children demands that every effort be made to achieve the following objectives:
- Obtain clarity about the policy / evidential basis (rationale) for promoting CSE in line with UNESCO’s ITGSE in South African schools and to out-of-school youth, if any exist.
- DBE must make all completed new content materials / SLPs (educator guides and learner workbooks) publicly available without delay, to allow parents and other stakeholders the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the new content that is proposed to be taught in the LS and LO curricula from 2020 and make informed decisions in the best interest of their children’s health and wellbeing.
- DBE to make full disclosure of names of contributors to the development of the SLPs (educator guides and learner workbooks) for each grade; the timetable for the roll-out of SLPs for all grades, including pilots and full curricular implementation; the outcomes and reception of all SLP pilots at schools; names of all contributors to the development and writing of the CSE support textbook and regular updates on the progress of the textbook writing project.
- DBE should conduct a substantial public participation process with all stakeholders and interested parties to determine whether the public want a national sexuality education curriculum to be provided through schools (and to out-of-school youth).
- DBE must allow and enable parents and other stakeholders to contribute to or influence the content of the SLPs (new curriculum content) by creating adequate public participation opportunities; giving proper consideration to their inputs and meaningfully engage with them and their inputs, including amending the SLPs where necessary, to ensure that children are not violated by the content or influenced by it in a manner that goes against their own, their family or their community values, beliefs and convictions.
Recognition, Protection and Diversion:
- Obtain confirmation from the DBE that they will respect parental rights in respect of the training and education of their children in the area of sexuality, including the right to decide to provide sex education in the home, whether by way of the national curriculum or any other alternative curriculum; that they will allow provinces, individual schools and/or individual parents to teach an alternative curriculum to the state’s sexuality education; or allow them to refrain from teaching, to alter or replace certain parts of the national curriculum to the extent that they disagree with its contents on rational grounds.
- Non-state service providers be allowed to actively train parents on how to educate their children regarding sexuality, sexual choices and consequences; and to developing sexuality education curricula as an alternative to state-sponsored CSE and roll these out to all South African communities; or parents be allowed to train children on character and values-based healthy sexuality, sexual choices, behaviour and consequences.
Where to from here?
Smit says all the different stakeholders and interest groups should individually and collectively take action to achieve the objectives outlined above in the interest of school children.
We encourage each individual stakeholder/interested party or group and representative body to work through existing channels to engage with DBE in respect of the objectives that you agree with or are aligned with.
Any stakeholders or party who do not have channels to engage with DBE, are welcome to contact CFJ at firstname.lastname@example.org, with a request to act on their behalf, he says.