Organisations critical of the Department of Basic Education’s handling of Comprehensive Sexuality Education stood their ground this week in the face of DBE statements accusing critics of spreading fake news and causing confusion and anxiety about CSE.
Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) dismissed as “utter nonsense” DBE claims that FOR SA had misled and confused the public regarding CSE and reiterated its call for the department to consult with parents, teachers and governing bodies before going ahead with its plans to implement new scripted lesson plans (SLPs) at schools next year.
The ACDP also rejected DBE claims that SLP excerpts that were posted on social media by critics of CSE were “fake news”. Instead, it accused the DBE of attempting to mislead parents by removing graphic images and content and publishing “sanitised versions of the SLPs” for people to read and review on its website.
“We call on the DBE to be honest and admit that they have only removed these images after they have had to give in to the mounting pressure. We do not believe these amendments to be permanent — unless we can be completely assured,” says ACDP MP Marie Sukers in a media statement released yesterday.
She says the ACDP can confirm that the SLPs, from grades 4 to 12 that have now been labelled as fake news by the DBE were reluctantly given to members of parliament sitting on the Basic Education Portfolio Committee by the DBE, only after the ACDP requested the content for the CSE curriculum during a committee meeting.
Both the ACDP and FOR SA also accused Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga of misleading parents when she said in reply to a question in parliament last week that parents could opt out of the CSE curriculum if they could produce an alternative curriculum that meets the required CAPS criteria for competence.
Subsequently, DBE spokesman Elijah Mahlanga clarified that the minister meant that parents who wanted to opt out of CSE could do so by opting out of the entire CAPS curriculum, which would necessitate homeschooling their children or sending them to private schools — something that was out of the reach of most SA children.
The DBE has vigorously defended its CSE programme in parliament and in media statements, arguing that it is a critical intervention, given the high rates of teenage pregnancy among school children, sexual violence and the low age of sexual debut. It also seems that one of the department’s reasons for introducing the new SLPs is to compel teachers to stick to the script, including teaching on areas of the current CSE curriculum which they avoid for personal reasons.
But FOR SA has criticised the DBE for pushing CSE despite the existence of unfavourable independent reports (2018 and 2019) based on data from United Nations agency UNESCO which is one of the main providers of the CSE programme adopted by the government. The reports indicate that the serious issues of teenage pregnancies, HIV/STD infections and sexual abuse that CSE is supposed to positively address, have become significantly worse.
Ryan Smit of Cause for a Justice, has put forward a legal opinion based on current practice at schools and recent statements by the DBE. He says that sexuality education currently being taught at schools as part of Life Orientation (LO) complies with the LO CAPS curriculum. And since the department has confirmed that that curriculum has not changed, the current content, prior to the introduction of the controversial new SLPs, complies with the LO CAPS curriculum and can continue without an obligation to implement the new SLPs.
FOR SA says that the DBE has only itself to blame for the confusion caused by its woeful lack of consultation with parents and teachers. “Both the Federation of School Governing Bodies and various teacher unions are understandably and publicly protesting the way that the department has circumvented the process and marginalised key stakeholders,” says FOR SA in a press release.
FOR SA says that the department’s lack of consultation with parents and insistence that the classes will be compulsory fuel parental concerns — especially as it is impossible to teach on sexuality without integrating values.
International law, sections 9 and 15 of the SA Constitution and the department’s own White Paper on Education and Training all recognise parents’ or guardians have the primary responsibility for the education of their children, says FOR SA.
A grassroots movement, #LeaveOurKidsAlone, which has 95 000 members on its Facebook group argues that parents have the right and responsibility to teach their children about sexuality according to their values and that it is a violation of human rights for government to take the role of parents. They believe the UNESCO-inspired programme will not achieve its social objectives but will damage children by sexualising them prematurely.
Watch the video below in which #LeaveOurKidsAlone founder Lauren Evanthia explains their viewpoint and strategy:
In one statement, the DBE said: “CSE is not new, it has been part of the Life Orientation curriculum since 2000. In other statements, the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga said, “CSE pilot programmes were run in certain provinces and will be implemented countrywide in 2020.”
What is the truth? If CSE was part of the LO curriculum since 2000, why did the minister run pilot programmes in 2017/18/19 and plan to fully implement CSE in 2020? Why do parents have the option to “opt out” of CSE now if, like the DBE claims, parents were previously informed about the content and found nothing wrong with it?
Naidoo says that reliable information gathered from the “UN Family Rights Caucus” reveal the South African government only signed onto CSE at the UN in 2015. That’s why a UN agency, UNESCO is tasked with implementing the programme in South Africa’s schools – not its own citizens!
He says if the DBE was honest and transparent from the start, civil society groups would not be in an uproar today.
He urges South Africans to sign a petition against CSE that currently has over 145 000 signatures and aims to collect 500 000 signatures by November 30, the date of a March for Family in Cape Town. Families led by city pastors will march to parliament praying for SA. A letter calling for the cancellation of CSE in South Africa, together with the petition, will be handed to government.