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Sumita Kale: Sex education in schools

Sumita Kale  |  New Delhi 

While state governments are rapidly hitting the headlines for "banning sex education in schools", the raging controversy raises issues that go way beyond the actual subject. According to the Report of the Working Group on Secondary and Vocational Education for the XI Plan, the scheme on adolescence education, promoted by NACO and the HRD ministry, should be operationalised across all schools in the country. Adolescence education is to be integrated into the school curriculum as well as in the teacher education system. However, governments across the country are backing off from introducing the course, faced with an outcry that sex education goes against Indian culture.
The Adolescent Education Programme originated in the AIDS control programme, and though there is a compelling need for health education in the country covering issues of hygiene and prevention of communicable and non-communicable diseases, the course has a narrow focus on HIV/AIDS and drug abuse. Moreover, the manner in which the entire subject has been handled, without anticipating a hostile response, is typical of the bureaucratic mindset in our education system.
Introducing sex education in schools is controversial the world over, and even more so in our society. The government has set an ambitious target of training school teachers to be comfortable with the subject and solve all queries without inhibitions, while a more sensible method would have been to use experts or staff trained to deal specially with the subject.
In fact, with a dropout rate of more than 50 per cent by the VIII standard, the debate over the inclusion of sex education in schools seems paradoxical. NFHS-3 data from the 2004-05 survey show that awareness of HIV/AIDS is a meagre 30.7 per cent among women with no education and 50.7 per cent among uneducated men.
Interestingly, even without sex education in schools, by the time education levels cross more than 10 years, awareness rises to 96.7 per cent and 98.3 per cent for women and men, respectively.
Similarly, awareness of the fact that consistent condom use can reduce the chances of contracting HIV/AIDS is 12.5 per cent for uneducated women, and 81 per cent for those who have had more than 10 years of education. For men, these figures are 33.9 per cent and 93.2 per cent, respectively.
Children do need to be made aware of abuse; the Study on Child Abuse in India, 2007 conducted by the ministry of women and child development reports that 53.22 per cent of children surveyed faced some form of sexual abuse, with the highest incidence of 61.61 per cent in children who work in shops and factories. The recommendation: "The study has indicated beyond doubt that schools as compared to other situations are the safest place for children and therefore efforts should be made to increase the enrolment and retention of children in school by adopting innovative, child friendly methods of teaching."
But the question remains: Should sex education be made a compulsory part of school curriculum? Travelling shows, radio and TV advertisements and visits by health workers in villages and schools can spread the message more effectively. An unnecessary controversy has been raised, instead of addressing the more crucial issues facing our schools "" facilities, teachers, examination and syllabus reform and so on.
Any which way you look at it, it is vital to focus on reducing the drop out rate from schools rather than to implement, in a ham-handed fashion, strategies designed to raise the hackles of parents.
The author works for Indicus Analytics and can be contacted at sumita@indicus.net

First Published: Wed, May 16 2007. 00:00 IST
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