Forum Letter Replies

October 13, 2014

MOE is mindful of secularity in education

For ST: We refer to Mr Yong Kai Chang’s letter on “Questions on courses run by religious groups” on 9 October 2014.

For TODAY: We refer to Mr Kong Pih Shu’s letter on “Sexist content of workshop not the bigger concern” on 9 October 2014, Mr Perry Tan Chik Choong’s letter on “Sexuality workshop in should reflect spectrum of values” and Mr Kuan Weng Chi’s letter on “MOE, Hwa Chong must address students’ accusations” on 11 October 2014.

The Relationship Module workshop for junior college students, started in 2009 and run by providers appointed by MSF, will cease by the end of this year, as planned. Beginning next year, MOE’s refreshed Growing Years Programme will be able to educate Junior College/Centralised Institute level students on healthy relationships. This is a holistically-designed sexuality education programme for Primary 5 to Junior College/Centralised Institute students, taught by MOE-trained sexuality education teachers.

Sexuality education helps students understand the physiological, social and emotional changes they will experience as they mature, develop healthy and rewarding relationships, and make wise and informed decisions on sexuality matters.

Taught through the formal curriculum in subjects like Science, Health Education, Form Teacher Guidance Period, Character and Citizenship Education, Growing Years and eTeens, sexuality education is informed by mainstream values. These include the heterosexual married family being the basic unit of society, and respect for the values of different ethnic and religious communities on sexual matters.

If schools wish to engage external vendors to provide additional sexuality education programmes, MOE has in place a stringent vetting and approval process to ensure they meet our requirements. Schools can choose from a number of approved vendors, which include non-faith based organisations.

MOE conducts regular audits of the various programmes to ensure they are secular in nature and are sensitive to the multi-religious and multi-racial make-up of our society. Parents can opt their children out of either the entire sexuality education programme, or from talks and workshops.

MOE will continue to monitor the programmes to ensure that they remain relevant and serve the needs of our students. More information can be found at www.moe.gov.sg/education/programmes/social-emotional-learning/sexuality-education.

Ms Liew Wei Li
Director
Student Development Curriculum Division
Ministry of Education

Questions on courses run by religious groups (Yong Kai Chang, ST Forum, 9/10, pA34)

APART from the issues of sexism and bigotry, I have a few other concerns after reading yesterday’s report (“Charity defends workshop after student complaint”).

First, what is the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) position on the influence, direct or indirect, of the teachings and values propagated by religious organisations in public schools?

How many courses are being taught by religious or religion-linked organisations at our public schools? What are the type and content of such courses, and what is the nature of these organisations?

Second, what is the MOE’s review and approval process, if any, before permitting such courses in public schools? Are independent checks on such courses conducted regularly and properly?

Third, are such courses compulsory for students, regardless of their religious affiliations?

Lastly, is the full and frank disclosure of the name, nature and inclination of any organisation (including parent organisation, if any) conducting such courses revealed to the students and their parents?

Perhaps the MOE could enlighten us.

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Sexist content of workshop not the bigger concern (Kong Pih Shu, Today Voices Online, 9/10)

I refer to the report, “Ministries, HCI studying feedback on Focus on the Family Singapore workshop” (Oct 9). Apart from the sexist content of the relationship module, I am more concerned that the workshop has a religious connotation.

School programmes should not be seen as favouring any religious groups. A school should stay as a neutral ground where students of all races and different religious backgrounds mix and learn together, without being slighted.

Hwa Chong Institution cannot allow religious groups to conduct classes that influence or seem to influence the students in a particular way, whether or not they could opt out of the workshop concerned.

The Education Ministry should look into this matter seriously, so that schools are not opened up to demands for activities from various religious communities.

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Sexuality workshops should reflect spectrum of values (Perry Tan Chik Choong, Today Voices, 11/10)

I refer to the report “Ministries studying feedback on relationship workshop” (Oct 9).

This furore bears a similar theme to a controversy in 2009, when a group of conservatives hijacked the Association of Women for Action and Research because they found the sexuality workshop it facilitated to be too liberal for their liking.

Both incidents are manifestations of a culture war, a conflict of values. The key question we must ask ourselves is: Does it need to be a contest where a set of values triumphs at the expense of the other?

In a place as diverse as Singapore, there can be no society-wide consensus on sexuality and relationship values, with an array of opinions on gender roles, marriage, divorce, single parenthood, sexual orientation, masturbation, premarital sex, contraception and abortion.

How one sees these topics is influenced by one’s religious or personal values. I found workshop materials from Focus on the Family sexist, outdated, religiously rooted, factually and scientifically unsubstantiated in part and generally irrelevant to modern life.

There are others, usually those who are more traditional or religious, who agree with the materials and the values propagated. The reality is that adults, including parents and teachers, may hold opinions that span the entire conservative-progressive spectrum.

It baffles me that ministries see an obligation to play referee in such bouts, deciding winners and losers. Why can we not recognise that diversity exists on the ground and it is a case of different strokes for different folks?

I am also baffled by why a large number of Christian affiliated vendors have been approved to conduct sexuality or relationship programmes in secular state-funded schools in a society where Christians form only 18 per cent of the population.

While I have no issue with groups conducting workshops based on religious beliefs in schools, it is unacceptable that these programmes are delivered to entire student populations without regard for the diversity of views on the matter.

I would be flabbergasted and upset if my daughters are presented such materials as the gospel truth. At the least, groups should be upfront about the religious underpinnings of their programmes.

A better solution is to create comprehensive programmes that inform students about various perspectives adopted by different groups. If reality is such that society does not hold a consensus, why should youth be taught otherwise?

Instead of treating these subjects didactically, vendors should be required to present facts alongside various values-laden perspectives and give students the opportunity to reflect, debate and, ultimately, form their own perspectives based on their values.

We have no need for self-appointed gatekeepers to uphold public “morality”, defined narrowly through their lenses, because there is no single set of community norms for some things in life.

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MOE, Hwa Chong must address student’s accusations (Kuan Weng Chi, Today Voices, 11/10)

I refer to the report “Hwa Chong to design its own workshops in future” (Oct 10). Following an internal investigation, the school concluded that the facilitators of the relationship workshop were “ineffective”.

It did not, though, address the student’s accusations that Focus on the Family Singapore had seized an “opportunity to further spread (its) own conservative, ‘God-ordained’ beliefs” as well as promoted “rape culture” and gender stereotypes.

The accusations, if not addressed properly, can undermine confidence in our educational system’s reputation and integrity, as it suggests a systemic failure, from the Education Ministry to the school, when implementing such programmes.

The student seemed also to have taken issue with the teaching of abstinence, arguing instead that there were “more important things such as safe sex” to be taught. As a parent, I am dismayed at such liberal views.

Abstinence before marriage is a virtue we must inculcate in our children. Although some people may argue that this is unrealistic, it is still the best option compared with contraceptives, which are not 100 per cent effective.

It is not only a Christian virtue, but cuts across many, if not all, religions as well as the secular realm. To accuse Focus on the Family of pushing its religious values in the classroom is uncalled for.

Lastly, the student seemed to suggest her school is allowing bigotry against students with a different sexual orientation.

She wrote: “The school has a responsibility to … ensure that it is a place free of bigotry, where students can at least feel safe to study in without fear of being persecuted for who they are or are figuring themselves out to be.”

It is wrong to tar an organisation or, for that matter, anyone by making sweeping statements. It is unfortunate that any unhappiness has been highlighted so openly. Does our school system condone this kind of behaviour?

By keeping silent on the accusations, the school or the Education Ministry is telling Singapore’s student population that it is all right to broadcast so irresponsibly.