Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) faces much resistance in India. In our previous article in this series, we spoke about the resistance that CSE faces under the guise of “Indian culture”. In this second segment we shall focus on the resistance to CSE through the thoughts and attitudes of schools and teachers.
We have reached an understanding of what CSE is, what myths surround it, and why it is important for us to provide the information to the children. Sexuality education helps enhance the quality of young people’s lives and the relationships that they form. It also reduces the possibility of negative outcomes of sexual behavior that may arise due to the absence of proper information – like unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and child sexual abuse (CSA).
Schools have an important role in fostering a healthy attitude to sex and sexuality among children and young people, as it is where they spend a majority of their formative years. Schools and teachers are in a position where they have access to children and parents, both of whom listen to teachers. Children spend most of their time at school interacting with teachers on a daily basis. Ideally, they should feel free to ask questions and get their doubts cleared.
The role of an educational institute is not just to provide literacy, but to teach us important life lessons. To receive a holistic education, we need to include CSE as part of the educational curriculum since it makes us aware of one’s bodies and minds and sensitises us towards others’.
Some schools have taken a positive and affirming view towards sexuality education. In a report by Times of India, Seema Bhatnagar, principal of Delhi Public School, Jaipur said “Teaching children about sex in classrooms would encourage them to view it as a natural, normal and healthy part of life.” Similarly, Lata Rawat, Principal, Cambridge Court High School, in response to the incorrect information children have about sex and sexuality, said, “It should be the duty of institutions to impart proper knowledge… Sex education has the potential to liberate us from sexual oppression. In addition, it helps adolescents come to healthy terms with their sexual identities and overcome feelings of guilt and shame”.
However, progressive views like these are few and far in between. Most schools express hesitation in incorporating CSE in their curriculum. Schools comprise of members of the same society we belong to, and hence they resort to the same arguments against CSE that are normally heard. “These things don’t happen in our school!”, or “Sex education is against Indian culture”, are commonly heard protests.
Most schools express hesitation in incorporating CSE in their curriculum.
Teachers themselves have never been provided with an understanding of CSE. Not even during teacher-training courses are they provided with sexuality related education and training. Hence, we understand where the resistance comes from. There is lack of accurate information and since they haven’t received education on CSE themselves, they too do not have the perspective on how to start the discussion on CSE matters.
Some schools have a tokenistic approach to CSE – hiring an NGO or a ‘sex educator’ to conduct a single session on sexuality education, and expecting that this is enough. However, one session is not enough to address and resolve all of the questions and doubts the crop up in the minds of the students. Just as children come to the teachers throughout the year for clarifications on a certain topic, they might require clarification on questions regarding CSE as well.
We cannot expect students to speak up and become comfortable enough to raise doubts and ask questions in a single session on CSE, especially when the educator is an external and unfamiliar person to them. Educators ought to be available all year round so that children can come to them for guidance when they feel comfortable to do so or are in need of it. Hence it makes the most sense that school teachers themselves become adept at imparting sexuality education to their students, and not rely on the help of an “expert”. TARSHI does trainings for teachers on CSE, an online course that is self paced keeping in mind the teacher’s convenience.
One of the biggest reasons that schools do not employ CSE in their curriculum is:
“Teachers are already overburdened without having to teach another subject.”
No one can deny the fact that teachers have a lot to do – maintaining daily records, test papers, examination preparations and homework, not to mention coordinating extracurricular activities like sports, dance, drama, debate, etc.
However, topics under sexuality education can be incorporated into the teaching routine if not as a regular subject. Conversations around sexuality can be woven into everyday discussions. Discussions around gender and sexuality don’t need a separate class. In fact, talking about them within everyday contexts will have the positive consequence of normalizing the lens of gender within broader contexts.
For example, one can initiate discussions on women who excelled in their fields, like talking about female monarchs in a history class, or famous female scientists, mathematicians, and doctors in science classes. One can casually speak of men taking part in domestic work like cooking, cleaning, laundering, etc. These discussions will displace stereotypical gender roles.
Discussions around gender and sexuality don’t need a separate class.
Teachers can incorporate social issues like sexual harassment, honour killing, sex selective abortion, etc. within other discussions of history, geography or language. All of this can be discussed in classes as and when the relevant subject is being taught. These discussions can be included in activities like debates, theater or literature. Or during a free class, teachers can conduct activities that address various topics under sexuality education in a fun way. Of course, this will require quite a strong backing from school administration and teachers.
These activities will not reduce the burden on teachers but will definitely not add pressure. Interaction with the students will be much more active,teachers always aim at the holistic development of their students, and there are many teachers already who incorporate various social issues during their classes. It will normalize the subject of sexuality education and discussions around it, without any space left for awkwardness.
Another way to overcome this limitation is by trained counselors who can conduct sessions and train teachers on handling these discussions in classrooms. CSE is a very important subject and requires trained professionals to conduct these classes or activities. One session can be held with trained professionals and thereon the teachers who have been trained on these topics, can keep conducting refresher sessions with students on a regular basis. Students can consequently approach both teachers and counselors with doubts.
Teachers can use various forums to provide information, for example awareness sessions, competitions and seminars for important topics. Teachers are the most important catalyst for spreading information as they interact with largest groups of teenagers and children.
Another common fear that schools and teachers have against CSE is the worry about what parents of students will think:
“What will parents of my students say if they hear about the kinds of things being discussed in a sexuality education class?”
Parents usually tend to feel rather relieved if the subject of sexuality is communicated to their children by a person they can trust, while not being in an uncomfortable position themselves. This study showed that parents themselves require sexuality education. A lot of parents themselves do not have the healthiest and safest information about sexuality and what information needs to be imparted to children. Through CSE, children will have an independent and accurate idea of sexuality which is not influenced from by society or parents.
Another study showed that 74% of parents do not discuss anything about sexuality with their children but would like teachers to discuss sexuality related topics with their children. Teachers can take parents into confidence and share information with them and answer their queries, as parents are important stakeholders in the process of imparting accurate sexuality education to their children.
74% of parents do not discuss anything about sexuality with their children but would like teachers to discuss it.
If parents still express hesitation, teachers can further involve them in the process by including interested parents to be part of the sessions, if allowed by the school. In a study by The Swaddle, it was found that parents prefer scientific explanations to puberty, sexuality and sex instead of casual ones when speaking to their children about these issues. They can learn this information by being involved with their school’s CSE program.
Misconceptions and myths around CSE can be eradicated by working with the parents. If parents find sexuality education to be culturally inappropriate, shouldn’t we acknowledge the fact that we need to include them in the conversation and make the relevance of the subject in their children’s lives visible to them? When parents are involved in so many other school activities, for example Parent Teacher Associations or Model United Nations, the school can encourage their involvement in sexuality education as well.
Imparting sexuality education should be an essential duty of every educational institution. In fact, India is one of the signatories to UN’s International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), where we swore to uphold the Sexual and Reproductive Rights (SRRs) of the young people. As a part of this commitment made through the ICPD agenda, India is obligated to provide for free and compulsory CSE to adolescents and young adults.
CSE has a long way to go in India, but we do see a growing recognition on the importance of CSE. With programs such as Adolescent Education Programme being implemented one can hope to see a better understanding of CSE.
Having access to information that leads to a healthy, informed understanding of sexuality and reproduction is a basic human right of children and young people. CSE is an important way for young adults to gain these rights. CSE helps impact the general health and quality of life and helps a person to live to the fullest by making responsible choices about their bodies. It reduces negative consequences such as STDs and teenage pregnancies, which are very much present in our society but not addressed!
Having access to information that leads to a healthy understanding of sexuality is a basic human right of children and young people.
We need our schools and teachers to play their role in the holistic development of children and young people. We can’t keep ignoring this basic aspect of human life. Sexuality isn’t something that comes in at some point in our life and then leaves – it is a part of who we are and stays so throughout our life. It is the responsibility of schools and teachers to equip students’ to handle this fundamental reality of life.
Featured Image Credit: Steve Teare