For as long as I can remember, schools have taught religious and moral education as part of their curricula. Within this subject, there has been some sort of sexual education although it has usually been fraught with fear especially through the teachings on virginity and abstinence from a religious point of view. In view of this, I fail to understand the paranoia that has shrouded the announcement of a new comprehensive sex education module that has been inculcated into our basic school curriculum from age five. This is not new, at best, it is a modification of something that has previously existed, only this time from a more social perspective. For the first time, gender is going to be taught from a very young age. We should be rejoicing, instead, there is anxiety and a lot of misinformation flying around about the content of the modules.
I have taken my time to read through the module and I am of the view that this is the best thing we can do for our young people to protect them from ignorance. For many years we have preached abstinence and have also relied on parents to teach their children about sex. How effective has this been? Abstinence has not stopped teenage pregnancies, neither has it decreased the number of unsafe abortions nor the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases. Let’s not hide behind religion to preach abstinence, for we know that it has yielded very little results. How many young women have carried unwanted pregnancies because they had no knowledge of contraceptives? In fact, it is very difficult to teach abstinence to an adolescent male or female with raging hormones.
Let’s not pretend that we don’t know that children as young as age 13 are having sex. In fact, a recent study published in April 2019 from Columbia University, School of Public Health showed that young people engage in sex as early as 13 years and this could be earlier for children in developing countries. Who is teaching these kids about sexuality? How are we ensuring that young people are protected from the dangers that early sexual exposure poses to them?
Where abstinence has failed, why not offer adolescents a rather comprehensive sex education which opens them up to other safe methods. In 2012, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, population division published an expert paper on the impact of sexual education on adolescent sexual behaviour. Some of their findings revealed that comprehensive sex education delays sex among adolescents and does not increase sexual activities among young people. Rather it increases their knowledge to make better and informed decisions. A more recent study published in 2019 by Dr David Bell of Columbia University confirmed this finding. What is it that they say? That when you know better, you do better.
Many people have argued about the content of the modules and again, I feel that their anger is not well informed. If you look closely at the document, you will realise that the modules are largely age-appropriate. In fact, I wish that the module, ‘gender equality’ will be treated earlier than the age 15 it has been pegged at. Other than that I believe there is nothing wrong with exposing young children to sex education at a young age.
If all young children and especially female children were taught body autonomy at a tender age, paedophilia and abuse will drastically reduce. That said, by all means, if people still think there is a need to interrogate the content further, let’s open up the discussion, let’s subject the document to scrutiny, but let us not sweep important information and education under the carpet of a grand ‘LGBT’ scheme, we will be doing all of us a great disservice
Speaking of a grand ‘LGBT’ agenda, it will be very elusive of anybody to think that LGBTs do not exist in Ghana and that someone is trying to force them on us, but that is a story for another day. I, however, think there is a clear difference between teaching a child about different sexualities and teaching that child to actually practice it. I want to believe the GES is interested in the former. I have attended Presbyterian schools all my life, and been exposed to Presbyterian doctrines, that didn’t make me a Presbyterian, I chose what I chose to be because I was exposed to both.
Instead of the unnecessary paranoia, let us rather question the capacities of the teachers who are going to teach these children. Are they well equipped? Are they gender-aware? Do they understand the knowledge they are imparting? Do they have the tenacity to impart this knowledge appropriately? Are they ready to answer the questions of curious minds? I ask these questions because I see a lot of uncertainties on the part of teachers going around on social media.
As much as many people were misinformed with conflicting information the GES also failed to effectively communicate this new curriculum to stakeholders. Considering the sensitive nature of this topic, the GES should have invested time and money in a proper roll-out strategy that will ensure that stakeholders were adequately prepared and educated on the contents of the document. This would have averted all the brouhaha and conflicting information that we were confronted with post-release of the document.
As a media and information literacy professional, I urge you all to verify the information you see on social media before you share and engage in public discourse, it will save all of us the stress that comes with information disorder.
The writer is an Assistant Lecturer at the Department of Communication Studies University of Ghana