Not a failure?
Sex education policy reviewed

By Sophia Yow

A newly released research project conducted by the Department of Education at The Chinese University of Hong Kong has aroused concern over sex education policy.

Some 50 percent of secondary students interviewed accept cohabitation, nearly double the figures a decade ago.

It seems that secondary students today have adopted a more casual attitude towards sexual relationships.

Sex education has been encouraged by the government since the early ’80s. However, the Education Department issued no formal guidelines until 1986.

According to the original “Guidelines on Sex Education in Secondary Schools” published by the Education Department in 1986, the aims of sex education are to “help students to acquire accurate knowledge about human sexuality and family life, together with better decision-making and communication skills and a stable value system.”

The main themes of the guidelines are understanding of oneself, family life, and interpersonal relationships, including those with the opposite sex.

The topics “premarital sexual relationships” and “sexual attitudes and values” are under the theme of attitudes towards the opposite sex.

Another publication by the Education Department, this one in 1992, is “A Teaching Kit on Decisions About Sexuality”, covering premarital sexual relationships, cohabitation and abortion.

The teaching kit is to arouse students’ awareness of “the reasons for cohabitation, cohabiters’ values, their attitudes towards marriage, bearing children and their future”, and “to perceive cohabitation as a choice of lifestyle deserving in-depth consideration.”

Three teachers teaching sex education responded positively about their achievements in sex education .

“We have integrated sex education with biology and Chinese lessons, and lessons held by the form teachers. There are seminars, too,” said Miss Chung Lai Kuen of San Wui Commercial Society of Hong Kong Chan Pak Sha School.

Said Miss Chung: “Matriculation students usually discuss cohabitation and abortion during Chinese language and culture lessons.”

Miss Lam Chun of the Chinese YMCA Secondary School said, “We have video shows and discussions about cohabitation in the human relationships division in Liberal Studies.

“Others topics are covered by social studies, religious studies, integrated science and biology.”

Mrs. Or Ho Yim Ching of Holy Trinity College said, “Sex education is combined with ethics and biology lessons. We have seminars in assembly lessons. Sometimes we provide video shows.

“There are counselling teachers to help the students,” said she.

The students reach conclusions during discussions.

“We only tell them the degree of social acceptance of an issue and their effects on the people around them. We sometimes give our opinion,” said Miss Lam.

“People have different orientations, so they make different decisions,” said Miss Chung. “Nobody should say that cohabitation is definitely wrong.”

None of them thought that the report revealed a serious problem.

“The report shows the overall trend, but not the situation in our school,” said Miss Lam of YMCA School.

Mrs. Or considered the findings of the survey not surprising. This is a result of Westernization, she said.

Her point of view is shared by Dr. Benjamin Chan Yeuk Man of the Department of Education at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“The result of the report could have been predicted,” said Dr. Chan.

Miss Petula Ho Sik Ying, field instructor in the Department of Social Work at the University of Hong Kong, pointed out that accepting cohabitation does not mean that the students will become cohabiters.

“It only means that they do not think that it is seriously wrong,” said her.

Agreeing, Dr. Joyce Ma Lai Chong of the Department of Social Work at The Chinese University of Hong Kong added that double ethical standards might occur.

“You can accept others as cohabiters, but you may not want yourself to be one,” she said.

“Social values are constantly changing. A hundred years ago polygamy was widely accepted. Now monogamy has taken its place. No one should decide which concept is right,” said Dr. Ma. Moreover, Dr. Ma doubted if the report reflected reality. “In one case, socially desirable effects may have been at work.”

The social desirability effect suggests that people may express an opinion that is socially accepted, but they do not agree.

The research indicates that the main source of sex knowledge of students is the mass media. Sex education in secondary schools is in the fifth position.

Said Miss Lam: “The mass media express so many wrong ideas about sex that they wash whatever we say away.

“Students are compelled to learn about sex during lessons, but read newspapers or watch television without stress.

“That is why they are more open-minded and learn more easily from the mass media,” said Lam. “This does not imply that sex education has failed.”

Dr. Benjamin Chan of The Chinese University of Hong Kong thinks that there have been achievements in sex education.

Said Dr. Ma, “There is not enough ground to cast doubts on present sex education.”

“The mass media are sending lots of wrong messages about sex,” he said. “Sex education provides them with alternatives and somehow corrects their wrong thought.

“Sex education is not a failure. In fact, some schools have done a very good job.” “More can be done in sex education,” said Miss Ho. “More space should be provided for alternative opinions and these ideas should be articulated in the discussions.

“What is good for one may not be suitable for others,” added Miss Ho. “Instead of telling students what they must do, we should tell them possible outcomes of different lifestyles and let them decide for themselves.

“Sex education, in this case, is to give students suggestions, assistance and support,” said Miss Ho.

“Teachers should let students know who to turn to when they have problems,” said Dr. Ma.

However, the Chinese University’s Dr. Chan emphasized the ethical side, insisting that there is an absolute moral standard.

“More stress should be put on family and ethical education. The students should know sex is not just something pleasurable, but it carries social responsibility and human dignity.

“Without proper ethical standards, there will be no morality,” said Dr. Chan.

The development of critical thinking is essential, according to all interviewees.

“Teenagers observe the grown-ups and establish their own values. Critical thinking will lessen the influences of the media and peers,” said Mrs. Or of Holy Trinity College.

They also suggest that, apart from sex education in schools, families should take an active role.

“Parents are the most effective educators,” said Dr. Ma.

The control of the mass media is also important.

“The government should keep an eye on them,” said Dr. Chan. “The pressure from schools, families and other communities can stop them from going too far.”

Despite the importance of sex education, none of the schools will make it compulsory.

“Schools have too many things to take care of,” said Miss Lam. “There are formal curricula, extra curricular activities, civil and sex education. We just do not have enough time.

“We shall adjust our curriculum according to our needs,” she said.

Discussions of the report about sexual attitudes of teenagers were held in Chan Pak Sha School, and the teachers in YMCA School said they would pay more attention to students’ needs.

No specific action was taken in Holy Trinity College, according to Mrs. Or.

The Education Department has set up a committee preparing to revise the present policy of sex education in secondary schools by first studying the research report in detail. No other comment could be obtained from the Education Department.

November 1996

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