The Department of Basic Education’s (DBE) spokesperson has decried the recent outrage at the sexual content included in lesson plans for school students in South Africa, blaming it on misinformation and misplaced vigour. Many parents, educators, faith-based organisations and various communities have denounced the new content on several grounds, saying that not only does it undermine the moral and religious values taught to children outside of school but that it also exposes the students to content of an inappropriate nature. Many have argued that the department has crossed a line by delving into the realm of value and moral judgements while teaching students sexual content.
The content concerned, which is contained in the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) curriculum, normalises masturbation and homosexuality and even encourages school students to look at certain individuals as heroes and role models due to either their HIV status or their identifying as LGBTQ+ combined with their activism and/or challenging of social and gender norms.
Spokesperson for the department, Elijah Mhlanga says the public “cannot attack something being tested”.
“Somebody took what we are doing in the pilot projects, where we are testing the scripted lesson plans, and told members of the public that we are going to implement what is in the pilot [programme], whereas we are only testing it to see how effective it will be so that we can learn lessons from it and make the necessary adjustments and go forward with it,” said Mhlanga.
“We are testing in 1500 schools and 300 000 learners have already been taught using this material… You cannot attack something being tested, because if you attack something being tested, what are you saying to the system? Where are we going to test to see if it will work or not?”
Mhlanga argued that “children need to know what’s happening to their bodies” and that “they appreciate it [the content] because they say that in the home their parents aren’t comfortable talking about these things”.
He added that some children say that their parents are “so deeply religious” that they refuse to speak to children about sex-related topics, hence the need for schools to do so.
According to Mhlanga, this makes it suitable for the department to prescribe / pilot content that usurps other parent’s rights to educate their children on the topic in a manner they see morally and religiously fit.
The spokesperson made a strong accusation against opponents to the content, accusing some of having paedophilic intentions motivating them to battle the empowerment of youth.
“We are doing this to equip them with the skills they need for them to be able to protect themselves against sexual predators because we know that, based on some of the research we’ve done, some of the people opposing this are paedophiles. Now they know children will be empowered with information…” said Mhlanga.
Despite the widespread public outcry, Mhlanga claimed that the reaction to the pilot programme has been “very positive” by both students and parents.