Yesterday we told you of the training of trainers’ workshop being held this week at BTEC surrounding adjustments made to the HFLE Curriculum for the upcoming academic year. It is a bold move by the Ministry of Education after they came under pressure in 2012 over the contents of the HFLE Teachers’ Manual that was produced. Today we got a more in-depth explanation on the HFLE Curriculum when we spoke with John Newport of the Quality Assurance Development Services Unit (QUADS).
“I can’t really speak for the churches but I don’t think they have much of an issue with sex education per say, I think the issue that happened in 2011 with the previous material was the nature of the way it was presented. So I am confident that there is widespread agreement that in the modern society all children need some kind of sex education. The aim of the HFLE curriculum is really two fold to make children safer and make them more resilient which means they are better able to cope when bad things happen. We hope that everyone has a wonderful life but we know that we are not taking our responsibility to educate seriously if we don’t prepare children for the bad things that happen to everybody from time to time. So there is widespread agreement as to sex education is really necessary at the primary school level.”
Advocating for the incorporation of sex education in the classrooms is the Belize Family Life Association (BFLA). Up to recently, there was disappointment expressed on the inactivity by the Government of Belize despite them signing on to the Declaration on Comprehensive Sexuality Education. Today, however, the BFLA’s Executive Director, Joan Burke-Skeen was extremely appreciative at the revised curriculum.
“I really want to congratulate the Government of Belize and particularly the Ministry of Education including the minister the CEO and their technical team because I feel that this is a giant step. The present Minister of Education as well as Minister of Health they signed the Ministerial Declaration for Comprehensive Sexuality Education called the Mexico Ministerial Declaration which basically speaks to education for prevention and when we talk about education for prevention we are talking about prevention of HIV, education for the prevention of teen pregnancy and all the other negative consequences resulting from irresponsible sexual decisions. So I felt it to the point of emotional when I saw the revised document that we are now talking about issues such as sexuality, sexual orientation and the fact that whilst abstinence is an option and whilst we speak about abstinence but we also recognize that for some young persons abstinence is not realistic and so then what other information do we need to provide our young people with in order for them not to be victims of the negative consequences.”
While this revised curriculum is a step toward greater awareness for young students, the document does lend to some flexibility for the teachers and schools as Newport explained.
“What we have done with this curriculum is that we have allowed a flexibility of interpretation so we are not saying to any particular church or teacher that you have to teach a specific type of contraception in this way, instead we are saying clearly you have to talk about for example how people control when they become pregnant but the learning outcomes themselves don’t say when you are teaching about pregnancy or teaching about sexual relationships you have to teach about certain types of contraceptive methods because we know in the church state system you are infringing on issues of conscience so when this material was presented to the churches and the church managers and it was also presented to every single principal in the country everybody agreed that yes we have to teach sex education but it is also a good thing to allow individual managements and individual schools to really define exactly what they are going to teach and in some ways I think that is necessary because although unfortunately every child is at some level of risk either now or will be in the future when we are talking about sex and so on each individual class is unique. So what we are saying is to the teacher you really have to base your teaching on two things, what are the needs of your students and then what are the requirements of your mission and you put those two things together in deciding how to move forward and so presenting it like that I think we have effectively removed most of the controversy.”
Participating at the training of trainers’ sessions are representatives from BFLA. It is an invitation that Director, Joan Burke-Skeen welcomed and appreciated.
“We are looking at so many negative consequences for both mother and baby and so we don’t want for the young people to reach that point ill equipped and so it was really an invitation that we embraced and we welcome when we were asked to participate and to this level in this year’s training, our training of trainers that is presently going on at the ITVET and the fact that the conversation has broadened I am certain that the government could have only reached this point because they have taken some firm decisions and they have said that yes whilst the church has its role and space but we cannot be ignorant of what is happening out there so what we need to do without getting into a point where it becomes a conflict across the table that we recognize that certain things need to be done and we will do what needs to be done.”
There were two other train the trainers’ workshop running simultaneously with the HFLE sessions which we tell you more about later in this newscast.