Department’s Twitter campaign to promote reading sparks concerns over sexuality education plans

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) is having to put out fires again after it came to light that a recent Twitter campaign to promote reading for children, included provocative images of scantily clad and (apparently) naked women and couples in bed.

Not surprisingly, this campaign has sparked fresh concern among parents and teachers about the DBE’s approach to teaching Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) to South Africa’s children as part of the “Life Skills” curriculum, says Freedom of Religion (FOR SA) in a press release today.

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The DBE has recently been mired in controversy, following a “leak” by sex therapist Dr Marlene Wasserman (“Dr Eve”) and an article by the Sunday Times entitled “Grade 4’s to learn about masturbation in new life orientation curriculum”, which stated that “next year, textbooks for pupils in grades 4 to 12 will reflect a ‘cutting edge’ curriculum that treats masturbation, sexual consent, gender nonconformity and single-parent families as mainstream”.

“Although there is a need to teach about sex and sexual responsibility due to the increase in teenage pregnancy and HIV infection amongst learners, it is equally clear that sex is not a ‘value-neutral’ subject,” says Michael Swain, executive director of Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA). “The big problem with CSE is that it not only teaches young people about sex, but it typically sexualises children prematurely. Many parents do not want their children to be indoctrinated in this way.”

At the time, the DBE was quick to distance themselves from the statements in the media. During meetings with FOR SA, the DBE claimed that the statements were unfounded and that the content of the curriculum was only in draft form and required further extensive consultation, especially with parents and teachers.

To date, no such consultation has been confirmed and the CSE curriculum for Grades 4 to 12 has now allegedly been signed off by the minister and is set to be rolled out in schools from January 2020, says FOR SA.

The DBE’s #ReadtoLead campaign supports the impression that the DBE is comfortable using sexuality to further its agenda, ignoring both the rights of parents to educate their own children according to their own values and the harm this can do to young people at a highly impressionable age.

It has been launched in “Women’s Month”, where the focus is to respect and honour women, not to sexually exploit and demean them. It also bucks the trend of pending legislation in the form of the Film and Publications Bill, which aims to prevent children from being exposed to or experiencing harmful content.

“Using images that are borderline pornographic to supposedly encourage children to read is beyond bizarre,” adds Swain. “It absolutely underscores the need for the DBE to not simply apologise but to actively commit to ensuring that parents, in particular, are made aware of whatever content will be contained in the revised ‘Life Skills’ curriculum and to have the right to withdraw their children from classes where this will be taught.”

The DBE’s Twitter campaign was also condemned by ACDP MP Marie Sukers in a press statment released yesterday. She said the ACDP noted an apology by the department “but we need to ask whether this ignorance is what stands behind the changes being made to the life orientation curriculum? At the same time we need to question whether these are really the people that should be teaching our children about sexuality?”.

The ACDP is organising a march in Pretoria on Saturday against the radical sexualisation of children. South Africans across the religious spectrum are invited to join in the march which will start at 10am at the corner of Kgosi Mampuru and Madiba Streets.


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