Last week the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that it would be identifying and training educators to teach its updated sexuality education program in local schools.

Pic: The Straits Times

Students in sexuality education class. Pic: The Straits Times

The two programs: Growing Years and Empowered Teens (eTeens) are aimed at students from Primary 5 (approximately age 11) all the way up to junior college or centralised institutes (approximately ages 17 to 19). The curriculum will include teaching children how to navigate and handle relationships on new media networks, how to protect themselves from unsafe sex and how to say “no” to pre-marital sex.

While it is commendable that MOE is constantly updating and evolving its sexuality education curriculum, the announcement has also raised concerns among many Singaporeans.

In selecting and training sexuality educators, MOE has stated that it will only choose teachers whose values align with the ministry’s. But what values are these, exactly?

In a reply to forum letters, Director of the Student Development Curriculum Liew Wei Li identified the values as “the importance of the heterosexual married family as the basic unit of society, and respect for the values and beliefs of the different ethnic and religious communities on sexuality issues.” She also emphasised that the ministry would promote abstinence as “the best option”.

This is where we stray into dodgy territory – pushing one particular method as “the best”, rather than allowing students to make their own informed decisions. It is also unclear where the ministry got their “mainstream” values; do these values really reflect modern Singaporean society, or are they just a set of values determined by a paternalistic government?

The same goes for the concept of the “heterosexual married family as the basic unit of society”. Of course, it’s highly possible that a large portion of Singaporean society may still believe in this. But is it really fair to teach it to impressionable children as a “mainstream value”?

On 30 June, over 15,000 people gathered in Hong Lim Park for Pink Dot, a celebration of the freedom of love. These people were there to support the right of everyone to love and be part of society, regardless of sexual orientation. The turn-out was more than seven times that of the first Pink Dot, and seen as a sign of increasing acceptance of LGBT communities. In this context, would it still be fair to say that heterosexual nuclear families are preferred by the mainstream? While we take into consideration our multi-racial and multi-religious society, should we not also acknowledge other aspects of our country’s diversity, and respect others such as homosexuals and single parents who may not fit into the “norm” identified by the ministry?

The danger of sexuality education focused on encouraging abstinence is that we will likely end up fostering generations of Singaporeans who feel as if sex and sexuality is something that shameful and dangerous, rather than something natural and important to our lives. We teach children to assign values to what are ultimately very personal choices, and to judge people accordingly: the best person would be the one who rejects sex before marriage, while those who have pre-marital sex must be somehow lacking in moral values.

In the long run, is this really healthy for our society?