Despite the controversy surrounding the introduction of the comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) curriculum in schools, experts agree its success depends on whether it is relevant to the South African context.
Educational psychologist Vanessa Barnes said her main concern was that the curriculum was developed for Westernised countries and it may not necessarily take the South African context into consideration in terms of cultural beliefs and values, lack of resources and funding.
Freedom of Religion SA executive director Michael Swain said that internationally, the focus had shifted from education on safer sex to sexualised education, which was not an approach the nongovernmental organisation supported for children.
Swain said: “We do understand how sex education could be helpful in reducing the high rates of teenage pregnancy …
“If this curriculum is taken up, we don’t want it to become sexualised and for parents to retain their right to know what their children are being taught and to have the right to opt out if they do not agree with it.”
Department of education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the national school pregnancy statistics showed significant increases, while the rate of HIV infection was very high.
He said some schools had started using the curriculum because “it’s a major issue that cannot wait”.
Barnes said there did not appear to be much research on the comparisons between abstinence-only education and CSE in the South African context, but that overseas statistics found pregnancy and STD rates were higher among young people who received abstinence-only education.
“Firstly, abstinence-only education discourages young people from discussing sexual development as a normal part of growing up. Secondly, young adults are less likely to obtain condoms as they could get into trouble. Thirdly, it often uses scare tactics to encourage avoidance of sexual encounters among youth.
“Lastly, it offers more information to adolescents on their options if they fall pregnant. This varies from programme to programme as some teachers are already encouraging an open approach to sexuality and sexual education, regardless of which curriculum they follow.”
Mhlanga said the department believed CSE would have an impact on a problem that was destroying the lives of young people.