Sex, schools and students

Fatima Measham; 20/10/09

Fatima Measham is a state school teacher in Victoria.

Few would disagree that, at some point, children ought to understand how the human reproductive system works. It tends to be the case that children initiate this exploration, often prompted by increasing awareness of their private parts or the anticipated arrival of a younger sibling. But discrepancies can arise between parental preferences and school delivery of such information. That was the case at Holy Name Catholic Primary School in Toowoomba, Queensland. Appalled that his children, aged seven and nine, were shown genital diagrams and a birthing video, Greg Wells transferred them to a state school. The story highlights the contentious and complex nature of sex education: how much ought to be revealed at which age and by whom? The fact that sexual norms vary among communities naturally makes such curriculum problematic. In fact, there is no comprehensive syllabus being applied consistently across Australian states and territories. Inevitably, schools are being accused of either doing too much too early or not enough.