Seeing it their way is key to sex education

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 December, 2010, 12:00am

Zhang Chao, 30, has been a biology teacher at a high school in Beijing for eight years. He gained wide fame after his 'bold and avant-garde' sex lecture to teenagers became a popular video on the internet this year.

What makes you popular among students?

Sincerity and some kind of ability. I never treat my students as children. I admire them. When you admire them, there's no generation gap. In some ways they're more capable than me, so I respect them, and that makes it possible for us to be sincere with each other. [As for ability,] I represent knowledge to students with clear logic. I think from their point of view, and this makes my classes easier to understand.

How are high-school students today different from those in your time, say, 10 years ago, in terms of their attitude towards sex?

I don't see much difference. There's no such thing as being more open [than 10 years ago]. All they want is to learn. When I was a teenager, I was curious about sex, and I wanted to learn. So are they. There's nothing else [besides curiosity]. If there's something else, it's adults' imagination. Teenagers are not as complicated as adults imagine.

How is sex education being implemented in schools?

There's a national curriculum starting from kindergarten to high school. As far as I know, Beijing's primary schools have been doing very well in this regard. Courses for high-school students vary according to age group. The lecture that is receiving massive clicks online was part of our school's psychology teaching programme two years ago, and my audience was senior-high grade two boys. I tried to make it pertinent to every one of them. Before I gave the lecture to the more than 200 students, I spent several months learning about their family backgrounds, hobbies, views, personalities, what they might have suffered and so on and so forth. I made sure I knew all these things and then chose what I would talk about and my way of lecturing.

How did the parents respond?

I did it at the students' request. Those who attended my lectures had their parents' support. Most parents today are still reserved, and they want their children to learn about sex in school because they are too shy to talk about it.

A recent survey of more than 3,000 young internet users show that the proportion of young Chinese who learn sex from their teachers and parents is only 30 per cent, and that far more learn about it from other sources, including the internet, books and the media. What do you think of this phenomenon?

Whatever source is appropriate, as long as the child can obtain the right, positive knowledge. There's nothing wrong with them learning from the internet, and if they can learn from books, it's also a good thing because it means they have a strong ability to study on their own. There's no rule about who should be teaching them. Parents can simply read more about sex education, and they can do a better job.

Some criticise schools and parents, saying they are incompetent in sex education. What do you think?

I tend to look at the issue as a dynamic process. Now that we have realised this problem, things will get better. Parents, teachers, books and the media are all important sources for children, but the first enlightenment should come from parents. They don't have to talk much, probably just one sentence about where children can learn about it. And I think parents are doing better in this regard. I'm an educator. If I always talk about the dark side to my students, it's not education any more; it's instigation.