“The cultural belief that teaching young people about sex will cause them to have sex – keeps administrators and educators from doing what they know is best: providing young people with developmentally appropriate, sequential and honest sex education.” This is according to Debra Hauser, the president of Advocates for youth.
But, at what age should children be taught about sex? Experts have argued that the introduction of sex education at an early age often run the risk of breaking down children’s natural sense of reserve. It may lead to children having a sense of embarrassment and protection towards their private parts.
This is one of the sensitive topic that are deemed as offensive, especially to parents. The issues of sex education has caused uproar on social media and on radio over the weekend when the Sunday Times publication published an article titled “Sex lessons for modern grade 4s”. The Department of Basic Education (DBE) was left bustling after the report noted that Grade 4s would learn about masturbation when the new life orientation textbooks are rolled out in 2020.
The headline itself urged the Department of Basic Education to issue a statement regarding the matter.
In a statement which was issued on Monday, the Department said that the article which caused a stir on social media platforms, is misleading and a complete misrepresentation of the work the department is doing.
“The journalist, Prega Govender of Sunday Times, has failed the readers of the newspaper and indeed the South African public by providing false information.”
The department’s spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the journalist quoted the Director-General Mr. Mathanzima Mweli on a separate conversation but related matter.
Dismissing the article, which he said has caused mass hysteria unnecessarily and confusion, Mhlanga outlined the facts as follows:
The new Life Orientation textbook for Grade 4 currently being written does not cover masturbation.
The textbook content for sexuality education in this grade is guided by UNESCO’S International technical guidance on sexuality education (an evidence-informed approach), as well as by input and guidance of research and evidence-based highly respected South African institutions.
The Grade 4s will learn, in an age appropriate and sensitive way, how babies are made and encourages learners to share what celebrations they know that are linked to welcoming children into the world.
The lesson set also covers being unique and special, healthy lifestyle choices with food and other substances, the importance of respecting each other and oneself, and understanding what a personal boundary is, as well as understanding the concept of privacy.
Grade 4 learners will practice skills such as identifying safe and unsafe behaviours within the context of personal lifestyle e.g. smoking, crossing the road in a safe way, as well as behaviours that are healthy or unhealthy for the environment.
“The DBE will be surprised if this particular lesson set causes outrage among learners, parents, teachers – or the media – around age inappropriateness,” said Mhlanga.
The department urged the media to exercise caution and contact the department for accurate information.
“Our Grade 4 learners are precious to everyone and we therefore urge the media to contact us for accurate information regarding this vital textbook project,” said the department.