Response to the Adjournment Motion: Sexuality Education in Schools as First Line of Defence Against Sexual Violence

Published Date: 06 July 2021 09:00 PM

News Parliamentary Replies

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Ms Raeesah Khan, Sengkang GRC

Response

1. Mr Speaker, Sir, we thank the member for agreeing with us that Sexuality Education is important.

Changing Landscape

2. MOE takes a serious view on sexual violence. The safety of our students is of paramount importance and concern to us. I have answered several questions on this before which reflects the concerns that MPs have and I appreciate their views.

3. We are disturbed to read about young children who have been victims of sexual abuse, by both familiar people in their lives and strangers. It is heart-wrenching to see how young people were misled, groomed or threatened into compliance by the perpetrators.

Sexuality Education

4. Addressing sexual violence requires a whole-of-society approach, and body safety awareness programmes in our pre-schools, Sexuality Education in our schools and Institutes of Higher Learning are all part of this effort. It is important to educate our young so that they learn how to be protected against sexual violence, and also know the punishment should they become perpetrators of sexual violence themselves.

5. The revised Nurturing Early Learners Framework, which covers children aged four to six, places a strong emphasis on the development of children's social and emotional competencies and include topics such as body safety practices, for example, recognising safe and unsafe body touch.

6. Sexuality Education is an important part of Character and Citizenship Education, or CCE, and that is why we regularly review and refine the way we teach it. Sexuality Education aims to equip students with age-appropriate knowledge and skills to maintain safe and healthy relationships and recognise risks. It is based on values that reflect Singapore's mainstream society so that students can make informed and responsible decisions on sexuality matters. Our Sexuality Education teachers are specially selected and trained, so that they can facilitate discussions with sensitivity.

7. From the roll-out of the Sexuality Education curriculum in 2014, to the enhancement of content on safety and protection from abuse in 2016, and the launch of the CCE 2021 curriculum this year, we have been updating our content to ensure that they remain relevant towards sexuality matters. We considered emerging trends, local and international research, input from specialists in relevant fields and our local context, and also importantly, feedback from our youths on their concerns and how they want to be meaningfully engaged. These may sound new to those of us who did not go through this new curriculum nor experienced these new teaching delivery methods, but we recognise that there are new challenges that our youths are facing and we are committed to partner them in their adulting journey.

Primary Schools

8. From as young as Primary 1, students learn about personal safety and protection from abuse. For example, they learn what is a good touch vs a bad touch. Through carefully designed and developmentally appropriate CCE lessons, they are taught to recognise sexual abuse and harassment. They learn skills to protect themselves both in the physical and online space, and know the laws that protect them.

9. In a Primary 5 lesson on sexual abuse, students walk through different scenarios to figure out if a particular action or situation may be a possible case of sexual abuse. Also, we hope that by sharing with our students about different ways to seek help, it will encourage them to approach a trusted adult when required.

Secondary Schools and Pre-University

10. In Secondary Schools and at the Pre-University level, students engage in conversations on the importance of respecting boundaries of self and others, and through different scenarios, learn to identify risks and stand up to peer pressure. These lessons also give them opportunities to practise negotiating boundaries for themselves and others, and the social-emotional and legal consequences if they overstep these boundaries.

11. Through authentic examples, students are guided to consider how respect looks like for both boys and girls. Students become more conscious of their own attitudes and regard for members of the opposite gender, and learn that their choice of words and actions, whether online or offline, makes a significant difference in creating a safe and respectful community for everyone.

12. Let me give you an example. In our refreshed Upper Secondary lessons, students consider how respectful and healthy relationships look like. Using a scenario of a girl's intimate photos being posted online, with boys making lewd and disrespectful remarks about the girl, students discuss what it would feel like for the girl. Through this lesson, students discuss the harm that can ensue through what may appear as harmless banter and jokes, and what it feels like to be objectified in this manner.

13. Topics and scenarios that are discussed in class include recognising red flags and seeking help for oneself and for friends. Teachers use video re-enactments and screenshots of messages so that students are guided to understand what sexual grooming and sexual abuse are, and how they are protected by the law.

14. Teachers also clearly communicate the law to our students for them to understand who and what the law seeks to protect.

15. We acknowledge that sexuality related issues are complex and multi-faceted, and we know that sexuality education lessons involve highlighting issues that are important and relevant to our young people and that we need to create a safe space for them to have honest conversations and to hear multiple perspectives from one another. At the end of the day, we hope to empower our students so that they can understand themselves better and make responsible decisions.

Institutes of Higher Learning

16. Our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) have also stepped up education and engagement efforts in recent years, on important topics such as respect and appropriate behaviour. This is achieved through multiple channels, including student briefings during orientation, online modules, face-to-face workshops, and awareness-building campaigns. All students are expected to abide by their institutions' Codes of Conduct, which set out the expectations for respect and appropriate behaviour.

17. The Autonomous Universities (AUs) have implemented or are in the process of implementing compulsory education modules on respect and appropriate behaviour.

18. First, students learn about the key elements of respect and appropriate behaviour. For example, in NUS's education module, students learn that consent must be actively communicated and given freely and voluntarily. For those living in hostels, these learning points are reinforced through compulsory face-to-face workshops and peer discussions. Next, students learn what constitutes sexual misconduct and harassment. Third, students are informed of the various reporting channels and support networks. They also learn how they can be an active bystander and protect themselves while doing so.

19. The IHLs constantly seek feedback from their students to review and improve these education efforts, such as through post-module surveys.

Whole-Of-Society Effort Needed

20. Mr Speaker sir, protection against sexual violence is not just about what we do in schools. And it also goes beyond a whole-of-government effort. It requires a whole-of-society effort.

21. As parents, we need to be there for our children, to provide guidance and impart values of respect and responsibility. We know that conversations with our children on sexuality matters is not easy. But by not doing so, the internet will fill this vacuum. MOE and our schools are committed to supporting parents to have these important conversations on sexuality.

22. We also need to work with tech companies and the media so that it is clear that our society takes a "zero-tolerance" stand towards toxic, violent and unhealthy relationships.

23. The laws in Singapore have also been updated to reflect new societal issues and problems, such as tech-enabled crimes. With the concerted effort of parents, schools, community, tech companies, media and a legal regime that deters sexual offences, we can journey alongside our young people and support them in the best possible way. Thank you.

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