“Our teaching needs to be close to the lives of teenagers, we have to use their language so that they can relate,” says Yip.
Apart from the content and format of sex education lessons, another important element is the teacher. The knowledge and attitude of the person delivering the information has a direct impact on how it is received by students.
Peter (not his real name), who is now 20, discovered the hard way that teachers can be as much a part of the problem as they can be a help. Peter became aware that he was attracted to boys when he was a Primary Six student. He was terribly confused at the time because nobody had mentioned “homosexuality” to him before. It was the internet, not his school or family that provided sources of information that could help him to confirm his sexual orientation.
“I struggled over why I’m so different from the other boys, as they dated girls and were attracted by girls. But I was so different and was only attracted by boys,” Peter explains.
When he was in Form Five of secondary school, Peter confided to a few of his closest friends that he was gay. Unfortunately, some other students overheard him. The school’s environment was hostile towards sexual minorities and soon the information spread. The following term, Peter was verbally abused and bullied. Some students even physically assaulted him. He was so terrified about going back to school he attempted to suicide. “I sometimes pretended to be ill, sometimes hurting myself to get ill,” Peter recalls.
At his Catholic school, Peter was also singled out and stigmatised by some of the teachers. In ethics lessons, his teachers pointed out that homosexuality was “no good” and publicly humiliated him and his friends. One of his teachers objected to him being the master of ceremonies at his graduation ceremony due to his sexual orientation.
Diana Kwok Kan, associate professor of the Department of Special Education and Counselling at the Hong Kong Institute of Education is studying the way sex education is taught in secondary schools. She says some teachers avoid discussing subjects such as sexual orientation although it is a part of the current curriculum framework for sex education, either because of their personal views or the religious background and culture of the school.
The Guidelines on Sex Education in Schools published by the Curriculum Development Council in 1997 recommended that secondary schools should hold activities to promote sex education and integrate it into different subjects, like biology, ethics and religious studies and home economics.
They also stated that meaningful sex education should include three aspects: knowledge, attitude and skills. Knowledge refers to knowledge of the biological, psychological, social and ethical aspects of sexuality, attitude refers to a respectful attitude towards sexuality and religions while skills refers to problem-solving skills to cope with personal and social issues related to sexuality.
Sex education was then included in the Education Bureau’s proposed curriculum framework for Moral and Civic Education (MCE) in 2002. This framework was reviewed in 2008 with specific teaching goals and learning outcomes added for each learning stage.
However, both the guidelines and the framework are just references for schools. The schools are not compelled to treat them like the curriculum guides designed for academic subjects. Secondary schools, therefore, have high degrees of flexibility in choosing their own way to promote sex education. The results of this can be problematic.