News / Opinion / Columns

Martin Williams
2 minute read
15 May 2019
9:35 am

Our teachers and schools aren’t fit for sex education

Martin Williams

Studies have found South African teachers unable to understand what they teach, including simple arithmetic and language.

Image: iStock

Despite an unconvincing denial by the basic education department, there are plans to spruce up sex education for pre-adolescent children.

At what age that includes masturbation lessons remains unclear. Unsurprisingly the Sunday Times report, “Sex lessons for modern Grade 4s …” provoked outrage, ridicule and a touch of humour.

In a variation of an old Smirnoff advertisement, one nine-year-old says to another: “I thought Wankeng was a place in China, before I started Grade 4.”

How shocking that a child of that age would know anything about China.

After all, South African kids are among the world’s dunces. A Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls) report in 2016 showed 78% of South African Grade 4 children cannot read for meaning in any language. Bottom of the class, internationally.

We also specialise in pit latrines and teenage pregnancies. At last count there were 3,898 pit latrines in SA schools. Some have proved fatal. In 2017 there were more than 97,000 births to teenage mothers in South Africa, according to StatsSA. More than 3,000 of these girls were aged between 10 and 14. The number of abortions for teenage mothers is unclear, but there is much sexual activity among schoolchildren.

Not all the biological fathers in these instances are schoolboys. There are reports of teachers impregnating schoolgirls.

Now Life Orientation textbooks have been overhauled to be more relevant for pupils. The basic education department reportedly hired “celebrity sex therapist” Dr Marlene Wasserman (Dr Eve), among others, to help develop a “cutting-edge” life orientation curriculum for grades 4 to 12.

Not everyone agrees that young children should be taught at school about masturbation. Even supporters of sex education must concede that priorities seem skewed when kids aren’t learning to read properly.

The hype about a cutting-edge curriculum ignores the quality of teaching. While many teachers are of the highest calibre, there are problems, including sexual abuse, absenteeism and alcohol consumption.

Last month Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga expressed concern that the trend of teacher absenteeism is growing. Studies have found teachers unable to understand what they teach, including simple arithmetic and language. Yet the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union consistently refuses competency tests for members.

So the question arises, are SA teachers in general capable of implementing cutting-edge sex education? If neither the teachers nor the children are up to scratch, how will they interpret lessons that begin with a yoga pose and a “mindfulness exercise” and proceed to masturbation.

Crime in schools is part of the mix and this insecure environment is an obstacle to the fourth industrial revolution. It’s not conducive to healthy sex education. The combination proposed free tablet devices and masturbation classes prompted this tweet: “Result? Kids wank to internet porn. Such progressive thinking”.

Is a cutting-edge curriculum designed by celebrity sex therapists appropriate here, given the state of SA schools?

Martin Williams, DA councillor and former editor of The Citizen.

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