Imperative to moderate sex education in schools
The debate that greeted the recent directive by the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu that sex education is expunged from school curriculum in Nigeria is to be expected, bearing in mind the sensitive nature of the subject and age-old controversy that has surrounded it.
For instance, it is on record that the subject was made part of the curriculum after years of discussions and debates by many stakeholders. And its inclusion was intended to promote awareness by pupils of the dangers relating to sex, particularly when used outside the reproductive and family norm, among other salient issues.
One of the problems of sex education over the years is that it has been stretched beyond the permissible limit and while part of the education has been useful to the children, other parts have inadvertently exposed them at the same time to the danger sought to be avoided.
Nevertheless, to expunge the subject by fiat, the way the minister directed and without the benefit of a round discussion by stakeholders, may not be the best approach to curing the bad effects of sex education in schools.
The solution probably lies in formulating the content of the subject strictly, such that all the negative aspects are identified and expunged while the positive aspects, including prevention of unwanted pregnancies, contraction of sexually transmitted infections and promotion of abstinence and personal discipline are retained.
Adamu directed the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) to expunge sex education from the school curriculum in Nigeria, noting that sex education should be left in the hands of parents and religious institutions. It is noted that little children are already exposed to all sorts of sexual perversions on their mobile phones and electronic gadgets.
The minister stated that his action was informed by the fact that in Nigeria’s religious and cultural setting, the morals and values imparted in children by their parents and religious institutions are the superstructures for moulding their character and building national ethos.
Some civil society groups had expressed their disappointment with the minister’s directive, arguing that it is highly uninformed and a setback which would erode the progress made by the Ministry of Education and other non-state actors in this matter. They further argued that the Family Life and HIV Education (FLHE) curriculum, among other things, contains factual information and skills on abortion, safe sex and reproductive health that are necessary for young people to make rational decisions about their bodies.
In truth, the teaching of sex education in schools has sometimes emphasized lewd-related and pervasive sex education that corrupts the morals of school children. Some of the content is immoral and the method deployed in teaching it is wrong and capable of corrupting impressionable secondary school and primary school pupils most of whom are in the age bracket of 5-14 years. In this sense, it is reasonable to avoid sexualising and damaging the character of our school pupils with pernicious sex education.
Yet, those canvassing sex education in schools are not without their reasons. For instance, the Nigerian Feminine Forum (NFF) issued a statement that the removal of sex education from school curriculum would jeopardise the rights of students to health education given its immense benefits to the health, well-being and protection of the child from diseases, infections as well as teenage pregnancy
The organisation’s Communication and Programme Assistant, Adaeze Ekpunobi, insisted in the statement that Adamu and NERDC should, in the interest of Nigeria and its public health, reverse the policy. “The NFF believes that the directive is ill-advised and stems from a place of ignorance on the value of sex education as a right and vital aspect of health education and holistic wellbeing of school-aged young Nigerians,” it added.
The group noted that expunging sex education from Nigeria’s schools’ curricula may exacerbate myriads of sex-related risks that young school-aged Nigerians were exposed to. It noted that contrary to the minister’s position on sex education, “evidence-based research at national and international levels, outlined the benefits of sex education to include delayed sexual initiation; reduced risk-taking; increased use of contraception; and improved attitudes to sexual and reproductive health.”
It, therefore, called on governments and policy-makers to provide safe, accurate and incremental sex education to young people in the country, adding that sex education in schools was imperative in today’s information age, where young people could access information from the internet and social media. “The Nigerian government cannot afford to neglect the right to health and holistic well-being of millions of school-aged Nigerians; the repercussions of such carelessness and retrogressive action will impact on all aspects of the Nigerian society,” it added.
It is unfortunate that we now live in a highly-sexualised society. And one of the negative consequences of this is the sexualisation of primary and secondary school pupils. At every turn — television, music, movies, sex education in schools — pre-teens, teens, school pupils and teenagers are daily bombarded with tragically misguided messages, often borrowed from abroad, about ‘safe sex’ but in all deviant forms.
About 15 years ago, some concerned parents sued the Lagos State government at the Federal High Court, Lagos over the corruption of the secondary school Integrated Science curriculum in Lagos State to include masturbation, how to wear condoms, breast enlargement, sterilization, abortion and so forth.
It is alarming that the sex education curriculum used in Nigeria is modelled after the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) which is copied verbatim from the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). There is little or no consideration for Nigeria’s closely-guided tradition and culture on the subject. It is necessary therefore that immoral biological sex education used in corrupting school children should be removed from the school curriculum.
For sex education to be safely taught in Nigeria’s primary and secondary schools, it must reflect the diverse social, economic and environmental conditions of the country, with full respect for the religious, cultural and philosophical convictions of the Nigerian people. It is suicidal to impose corruptive sex education imported from abroad on Nigerian schools.
Every society should grow with its own values and culture. Teen sexual immorality is abhorred in all Nigerian cultures. Teen sexual perversity is punishable under Nigerian law and in most cases without the option of a fine. A common error is to think that mere biological knowledge and information through sex education are enough, whereas even the best sex information may not make anyone chaste.
Sexual avoidance, not risk reduction should be the approach to sex education because it is desirable that school pupils completely avoid sexual risk. Even school pupils who are sexually active can be encouraged to return to abstinence until they are older. Schoolchildren constitute the real treasure of Nigeria. And the greatest crime anybody can commit is to destroy that treasure.
The ultimate responsibility for teaching values-based sex education lies squarely with parents who are the primary educators of their children. While mothers privately teach their daughters the proper norms and attitudes in sex-related matters, fathers should also do the same thing with their sons. It is unfortunate and regrettable that many parents are shirking this important family responsibility on the excuse of work, thereby delegating their family responsibilities to house helps.
The family institution, unarguably, is indeed the fundamental unit of society. The family is the natural context in which children learn all the basic values (including spiritual ones) which help to shape their character and steer them in the right direction.
Further, it is in the natural family that children imbibe those cherished values which form the superstructures for the building of national ethos. Therefore, parents should rediscover themselves and reinvigorate their respective families to enable them to guide their own children to be responsible citizens. Civilisation is imperilled when families are imperiled. A so-called technologically-advanced world without natural families to provide the moral compass to sustain it is indeed a failed world.