Updated: Dec 1, 2022
Most education systems in the world have witnessed radical and comprehensive changes throughout time. We have seen the inclusion of outside the box teaching methods and smart education, but is the education system truly smart enough?
India underwent a major change in its education system with the New Education Policy in September, inclusive of changes that will surely shape the new world. However, what we witness in these great changes is the blatant lack of comprehensive and inclusive topics such as Sexual and Reproductive Health Education. The education system and its radical changes are said to cater to the needs of a modernized society and the new age. However, education about sex and reproduction is still considered unethical and outrageous to teach to school going children in the South Asian region.
Society, policy-makers and grown-ups in general assume that sex education, simply put, teaches us how to have sex. And here comes the biggest mishap. What they fail to understand is that the area of study intertwines with many things such as:
· Self-esteem regarding sex and one’s body
· The idea of consent
· Relationships and pleasure
Sex education is not an area of study where you talk only about having sex. An education in this area will determine how people will have safe sex and how a country and its society will view and interpret relationships and sexuality in the future. Safety is one of the major reasons why the topic was first picked up to be taught in schools in Europe right after the World Wars to prevent Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) like Syphilis and Gonorrhea. Sex education also deals with a lot of social issues and talks about your body, your mental and physical health and the earlier we learn about these things the better society will progress and be more accepting.
Previously the whole topic was published in magazines to help parents enlighten their children. Beyond the little we learn about sex in school from the curriculum, we mostly learn about it from our friends or our environment and that is where it has gone wrong. There is a big difference between learning something from trained professionals, and learning from opinions that are not always factual.
The progress of sexual and reproductive health education has come from talking about animal and plant reproduction to human reproduction with a little more detail about the human body. Even with a slight decrease in the guilt and embarrassment surrounding this area of study, there is still a lot more that still needs to be touched upon. Sex and reproductive health education is widely taught more under a Biology lesson in brief, where girls are more likely to be taught little about it and boys are usually left out because of the widespread association of that particular part of biology being a “feminine” subject.
Sex education as a discourse is still largely unequal and sexist both in society and the education system. Women are more likely to receive education and be asked to be more responsible. Social programs which are taught privately or on a small scale in school, naturally asks women to be more sensible and for them to help men to be responsible for their self-control. Such ideas still exist in society no matter how progressed it portrays itself as. Sex education should not be a matter of debate, be it personal or political. Nobody's character is at stake and children need to be sensible and responsible for their actions. They can only do so if they have a clear idea of what certain actions mean, as well as their consequences.
Furthermore, due to the importance of sexual and reproductive health education, it should not be involved with perceptions, politics, notions and cultural ethics. There is a reason why shows like “Sex Education”, “A.P. Bio” and “Wanderlust” did so well in the digital platform. And the reason why they did so, is not because the whole talk about sex seems attractive to the youth. On the contrary, they dealt with things that no one has talked about before and that is what drew the audiences.
As Baroness Strange in a parliamentary debate in the UK in 2000 put it as “Yesterday, when I was kneeling in the snowdrops, in the woods at home, picking fresh white blossoms with their sharp, sweet scent, they made me think of the innocence, purity and loveliness of children”. Even when children are widely viewed as innocent, there should not be any excuse to stop them from getting education that involves their own mental and physical health. Sexual education is a necessity to ensure their self-awareness of indecent activities as well as their own safety and health. Studies also prove that children with prior knowledge about it choose to engage in sexual intercourse much later than those who did not.
So why don't we start with the base in school? The moment it is taught as a part of the curriculum in school, it frees parents from explaining their perspective over sex and adding their religious and ethical values and expectations. It must be noted that sex education does not encourage or increase sex and other sexual activity. Comprehensive programmes talk about facts that involve sexual activities and by keeping the odds in your favour to be careful and safe. Safety was one of the main reasons why sex education was taken up as part of the curriculum in the first place and it continues to be a pressing issue due to STDs still being very much prevalent. Using protection and contraception are the basics of the entire curriculum.
We never know the necessity of a subject till its practice is applied in the real world. Not all of us need calculus or algebra in everyday life unless we are mathematicians, but yet we study it because we never know when it might become useful. So why can we opt out of one subject and not out of another? Why can parents and society tell us that sexual education is not a necessity even when sexual activities are a part of human existence? Sex education is a necessity in today's world because it teaches us how to be more responsible and to be more aware. Abstinence does not prevent the dangers that come with unwanted and unsafe sexual activities. The more people know, the more likely they are to say “No”.
Sexual and reproductive health education should be an important and a mandatory subject in the education system, and not an opt-in opt-out choice where parents have a bigger say than their child. It should be a part of the curriculum in a comprehensive manner. Giving adolescents the bigger picture with facts and all the risks can help them make informed and responsible choices. Sex will not go away if we choose not to talk about it. So the better option is to take a more liberal and positive approach and educate the future generations. Education is every child's fundamental human right, and it is the fundamental duty of a society to provide the future generations with a comprehensive education on sexual and reproductive health.