Sexuality education

Sexuality education refers to the process of acquiring knowledge and skills, as well as forming attitudes, beliefs and values with regard to human sexuality.1 The Ministry of Education (MOE) has implemented a holistic and secular sexuality education curriculum in schools to meet students’ developmental needs at different stages. The curriculum currently comprises two main programmes: The Growing Years (GY) and Empowered Teens (eTeens) that span from primary to junior college (JC)/centralised institute (CI) levels.2 The curriculum aims to enhance students’ understanding of the physiological, social and emotional changes they might experience as they mature, build relationships and make decisions in sexuality matters.3 Sexuality education programmes in schools are constantly reviewed by MOE to ensure that they remain relevant and serve the needs of students.4

Background

The sexuality education programme was introduced to schools in 2000.5 In a survey conducted by the Singapore Planned Parenthood in 1999, it was revealed that while schools were a major source of information on sexuality matters for Singaporean youths, teachers were the least likely to be consulted on such issues. As a result, the sexuality education curriculum was designed to provide schools with teaching resources to educate youths regarding sexuality. The curriculum aimed to provide students with accurate and adequate knowledge on human sexuality and the consequences of sexual intercourse; develop their intra- and inter-personal problem-solving, decision-making and communication skills; as well as inculcate positive values and attitudes towards sexuality.6 

In 2012, MOE updated the content and teaching methods of the Growing Years and eTeens programmes within the sexuality education curriculum to reflect the changing profile of youths and emerging trends.7 

Curriculum

Under the revised curriculum, each school has a core team of 10 specially selected and trained teachers to deliver the Growing Years (GY) and Empowered Teens (eTeens) programmes.8 The curriculum is meant to complement the primary role played by parents in educating their children on values pertaining to sex and sexuality.9 Hence, parents can opt their children out of the school’s sexuality education programme, talks and workshops. They can also seek permission to sit in the lessons and provide their feedback.10

The Growing Years

The Growing Years (GY) programme is conducted for pupils from primary five up to the JC/CI level. GY presents a holistic perspective on human sexuality, addressing the physical, social, emotional and ethical aspects of the subject. Topics covered in the programme include building rewarding and responsible relationships; dating, going steady and marriage; sexual health and behaviours; consequences of teenage sexual activity and pregnancies; and media influence. Abstinence before marriage is taught as the best course of action for teenagers to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancies.11 

The programme has undergone periodic reviews since its introduction to schools in 2000. In 2012, the sexuality education curriculum was revised and GY now provides a specific focus for students at different levels and addresses issues related to media influence, cyber relationships, dating and romantic relationships.12 

eTeens

Formerly known as Breaking Down Barriers, the Empowered Teens (eTeens) programme is jointly run by MOE and the Health Promotion Board (HPB).13 The programme is conducted for students at the secondary three and JC/CI Year 1 levels, and comprises mass talks and classroom-based lessons. It aims to provide accurate information on STIs, HIV and protection from a health perspective;14 increase awareness and knowledge of the different STIs and HIV, modes of transmission and protection, abstinence, skills for decision-making, assertiveness and rejecting peer pressure to have pre-marital sex, and the consequences and impact of STIs/HIV;15 and ultimately empower students to make informed decisions.16 

Other sexuality education programmes

Sexuality education is also delivered through subjects such as science, health education, Form Teacher Guidance Period (FTGP) and Character and Citizenship Education (CCE).17 The concept of reproduction and inheritance is part of the science and biology syllabus at both primary and secondary levels. Topics on reproductive systems, menstruation, contraception, STIs and issues related to abortion and pre-marital sex are covered at the secondary level. The CCE programme educates students on developing respectful, responsible and caring relationships through fostering positive attitudes towards themselves and others. The FTGP educates students on how to protect themselves from sexual abuse and seek aid when sexually threatened or abused.18 The health education syllabus educates lower primary students on building a healthy body image as well as self-esteem and protection against sexual abuse.19 Since 2009, schools have been permitted to engage external vendors with the relevant expertise to conduct supplementary sexuality education programmes.20

Controversies
In 2009, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) saga shed light on schools’ engagement of external vendors for sexuality education programmes.21 The organisation’s “Comprehensive Sexuality Education” programme was suspended as it was found to have flouted MOE’s guidelines. After assessing its basic instructor’s guide, MOE found that it conveyed messages that could be seen to promote homosexuality and pre-marital sex.22 This contradicted MOE’s framework for sexuality education, which reflects mainstream views and values in Singapore, where the social norm is the heterosexual family unit.23 

Following the AWARE saga, the ministry suspended all sexuality education programmes conducted by external vendors in schools and tightened its vetting process for the selection and monitoring of vendors.24 While schools previously had the autonomy to hire external vendors for their sexuality education programmes, they now have to choose from a list of MOE-endorsed vendors. According to a set of guidelines released by MOE, applications from external providers must include a policy statement on sexuality education, demonstrate their track record and relevant experience in working with children and teens on sexuality-related areas, as well as provide assurance that lessons will be integrated with the teaching of mainstream values.25 

In 2014, a group of Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) alumni petitioned for the suspension of sexuality education workshops offered by Focus on the Family Singapore. The move came after a HCI student criticised the workshop for being sexist and advocating gender stereotypes.26



Author
Liviniyah P.



References
1. “Sexuality Education,” Ministry of Education, accessed 3 March 2018.
2. Liew Wei Li, “Sexuality Education Complements Primary Role of Parents,” Straits Times, 23 January 2012, 27. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Ministry of Education, “Sexuality Education.”
4. Liew Wei Li, “MOE Mindful of Need for Secularity in Programmes,” Straits Times, 13 October 2014, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Jason Tan and Ng Pak Tee, Thinking Schools, Learning Nation: Contemporary Issues and Challenges (Singapore: Pearson Hall, 2008), 172. (Call no. RSING 370.152095957 THI)
6. Tan and Ng, Thinking Schools, Learning Nation, 172.
7. Mathias Chew, “Social Media to Be Included in Revamped Sexuality Education in Schools,” Straits Times, 27 June 2012, 2–3. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Sumita Sreedharan, “A New Sex Education Programme,” Today, 27 June 2012, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “Sexuality Education Programmes Revised,” New Paper, 27 June 2012, 8–9. (From NewspaperSG)
10. “Sexuality Education: Roles of Stakeholders,” Ministry of Education, accessed 16 April 2015.
11. “Sexuality Education: Scope and Teaching Approach,” Ministry of Education, accessed 13 June 2017.
12. Sreedharan, “New Sex Education Programme.”
13. Chew, “Social Media to Be Included.”
14. Ministry of Education, “Sexuality Education.”
15. “The Sex Factor,” New Paper, 2 July 2012, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Ministry of Education, “Sexuality Education.”
17. Ministry of Education, “Sexuality Education.”
18. Ministry of Education, “Sexuality Education.”
19. Liew, “Role of Parents.” 
20. Ministry of Education, “Engagement of External Providers for Sexuality Education,” news release, 2 January 2018.
21. Sreedharan, “New Sex Education Programme.”
22. Jennifer Chan, “MOE Suspends Aware’s Guide for Schools,” New Paper, 7 May 2009, 19. (From NewspaperSG)
23. Darius Lee, “Answers Contradict MOE’s Stand,” Straits Times, 11 February 2014, 24. (From NewspaperSG)
24. Ong Dai Lin and Alicia Wong, “Aware's, Other Sex Ed Courses Put On Hold,” Today, 7 May 2009, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
25. “Ministry Releases Guidelines for Vendors,” New Paper, 8 October 2009, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
26. “Hwa Chong Alumni Slam ‘Sexist’ Workshop,” New Paper, 9 October 2014, 4. (From NewspaperSG)



The information in this article is valid as at June 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Sex instruction--Singapore
Sex education
Sexual health--Singapore