Sex education seen as vital in schools

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 June, 2006, 12:00am

Concern groups urge it as compulsory curriculum focus after near-record rise in new cases of HIV

The government urgently needs to establish a compulsory sex education curriculum to equip students with knowledge and skills to avoid unwanted pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, concern groups have warned.

'The government is taking a stand that is far too passive,' said Winnie Ho Sze-ki, prevention programme manager for Aids Concern. 'They need to do a lot more.'

The calls follow last month's release of figures that show a near-record rise in new cases of HIV and news that many schools run by religious sponsoring bodies continue to base sex education based on their faiths rather than government guidelines.

There were 89 new cases reported in the first quarter of this year, just two short of the record 91 cases in the third quarter of last year.

She said the government needed to begin negotiating with religious sponsoring bodies about making sex education standard and ensuring all students were given access to unbiased information.

'A lot of schools are run under religious groups,' Ms Ho said. 'If they face such a conflict about what they should teach and how they should teach it, it is important for the government to take the lead.

'It is not just about condoms and preventing HIV. It is about enabling students to make good choices, healthy choices both emotionally, physically and even spiritually.'

Guidelines issued by the Education and Manpower Bureau cover all aspects of the teaching of sex education but schools are not obliged to follow them.

A senior source at the EMB admitted sex education was a 'pretty undeveloped aspect of the curriculum'. Catholic schools in particular tended to teach the subject 'in the context of their own faith'. 'They just rely on the quiescence of parents,' he said. 'Parents don't get stirred up unless it's their own son or daughter who gets in trouble.'

However, Wong Kwan-ying, senior curriculum development officer for moral and civic education, said the government had no plans to make sex education compulsory.

'The Hong Kong curriculum is already very tight. There would not be room for us to introduce another subject,' Ms Wong said. 'We encourage schools to teach sex education in an open and objective environment. But if schools have a religious background, we have to understand and respect that.'

An education spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong - which is the largest schools sponsoring body - said schools were expected to follow the church's teachings on sex education. That included its opposition to pre-marital sex, homosexuality, artificial contraception, abortion and artificial insemination.

'We cannot avoid teaching this if it is in the EMB's curriculum,' she said. 'But within our own schools we will definitely tell students about the church's position.'

Claura Lau, pregnant girls service supervisor for Mother's Choice, said the charity was not in a position to comment on schools' religious stance on the issue. 'Our belief is that no form of contraception is 100 per cent safe,' she said. 'Sex education is not just about using condoms or not using them. We hope, in the long run, sex education can be included in the curriculum.'

Atty Ching Tsui-wan, director of the youth charity TeenAids, said it was unfair to blame schools as the EMB was not taking the lead.

'There is no syllabus, no support network and no space set aside in the curriculum. This needs to be taught by professional teachers,' she said.