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In her research, Diana Kwok found a numbers of school deliberately excluding the chapter on sexual orientation, though it is clearly stated and required by the guidelines, because of their religious and cultural background. Kwok finds this to be an abuse of the flexibility granted to schools by the Education Bureau.

Lam Yiu-wah, a guidance master at a Christian secondary school, explains the difficulties of covering sensitive issues like safe sex and homosexuality in a secondary school with a religious background. He says teachers have to take account of the philosophy of the school sponsoring body. Lam says he once received complaints from his colleagues and even students from a Christian fellowship after he invited a homosexual to speak to the students.

While he is mindful of religious and cultural sensitivities, Lam disagrees with the approach of excluding different views and values while discussing sexuality issues. “We would tell students there are many different stances along with discussing their supporting arguments. We hope they can understand these stances,” Lam says. “We wouldn’t brainwash the students.”

Despite the problems arising from the flexibility granted to secondary schools on how to teach sex education, Kwan Pak-keong, the chief curriculum development officer for the subject, defends the policy. He says it is the best way to balance students’ needs, the philosophy of school sponsoring bodies and social expectations. Kwan says there are External School Reviews to evaluate the schools’ performances from time to time and the system is effective.

While some schools may play down or even ignore important aspects of sex education for cultural or religious reasons, others may simply not view sex education as a priority. When preparing for the Diploma of Secondary School Examination (HKDSE) puts so much pressure on students and teaching staff, it becomes impossible for schools to expand and refine their sex education curriculum according to their students’ needs. In some cases, the Education Bureau’s flexibility becomes an excuse for schools to put less emphasis on sex education to the extent that it is not even taught.

For Dr Ng Wing-ying of the Hong Kong Association of Sexuality Educators, Researchers & Therapists, this is symptomatic of a school culture where teachers focus on academic results and maintaining the school’s competiveness to the detriment of nurturing the all-round development of students. That includes developing a respect for others through respecting oneself, and helping a child to build up self-esteem.

“We don’t only teach how to distinguish between geography, physics, chemistry, we also teach them how to be a moral, critical, responsible person, and to know how to love,” Ng says.

Ng says that if children and young people have a sense of self-worth, they would not see themselves as objects and would be less likely to engage in risky sexual behaviour. For Ng, a good sex education is all about appreciating others, and being able to accept and respect others for their differences, including sexual minorities.

Therefore she hopes a reform of sex education will be accompanied by a reform of the whole education system which would allow students, teachers and parents to focus more on life education, rather than solely on academic excellence.

Like Ng, Diana Kwok of the Institute of Education believes sex education should be more wide-ranging. She advocates a comprehensive sex education that would cover the moral, health and human rights aspects of sexuality. Kwok says sex education in Hong Kong is outdated and that teachers should not only discuss topics such as biological sex, sexual behaviour and gender but also sexual desire and sexual pleasure within the context of safe sex and mutual respect.

She says it is difficult to talk about desire and pleasure in secondary schools because of the preconception that even talking about it will encourage students to have sex. Kwok disagrees with this notion and believes suppression of such discussions is harmful.

“We shouldn’t deny the desires of the body because many problems arise when we deny our own desires,” she says.

 Edited by Jeffrey Wong