06 May 2010

MOE and sex ed: let the culture war begin!

Last week, Singapore's Ministry of Education released its new approved sex education vendors list after a revamp and audit of external vendors and their programmes. Word has it that liberals and secularists in Singapore are concerned with the new list - 5 out of 6 of the vendors are linked to Christian organisations.

Should this be a concern? The ministry wants you to stop asking this question because "external vendors affiliated to religious groups are reminded not to proselytise or make reference to their religions during activities".

For Singaporeans who have been keeping tabs over the years of the objectionable content of the programmes by these vendors (showing the infamous Silent Scream video which shows gory abortion pics but doesn't say that these were pics of procedures now banned and from miscarried foetuses rather than aborted foetuses, requiring students to sign chastity promises, teaching that masturbation is morally wrong)... Well, let's just say that these Singaporeans won't buy MOE's Jedi Mind Trick that easily.

So have the fundamentalist Christians won this culture war? Should we all be worried that our children are going to be mis-educated in schools?

Interest; or Means, Motives, and Opportunity

Let us construct a hypothetical social field of sex education, where the players can be situated and bounded by their interest(s) and subsequent positioning and position-taking in the struggles of this field - which like all other social fields, are centred on who is a "legitimate" member and taking a "orthodox" stand.

Who would be interested to offer sex education in the institutional context of schools?
Who would be interested to offer sex education as a comprehensive subject?
Who would be interested in defining sex education as a normative subject, as opposed to a scientific subject?

I put it to you that the paucity of non-Christian and even non-fundamentalist Christian CSE providers is due to the lack of interest of any other factions (from the wider society, from the wider conservative majority, from even the varied Christian community) to offer sex education.

Out of society at large, it is the fundamentalist Christians are interested in sex education as a political issue. It is the fundamentalist Christians are most interested to see sex education taught as a subject in schools.

Sex education in schools is a narrow interest of fundamentalist Christians - and it should be no surprise that they constitute the bulk of the supply and demand for sex education in schools - and that the orthodox or consensus principles of sex education from these vendors are going to be the ultraconservative, with a hard Christian core.

The tyranny of the minority

Wider society may be conservative, but not all conservatives make an issue out of sex education or insist on a moralistic approach to sex education - aside from a tiny faction of fundamentalist Christians.

As demand and supply for this form of sex education is mostly from this small but vocal minority, I am scandalised that MOE has decided to allow these vendors to offer sex education to ALL schools in Singapore, a free platform to push their narrow philosophies on sexuality, which go further right than most conservatives in Singapore.

These sexuality programmes pander to such a small minority of Singaporeans, I am surprised that MOE is allowing these providers to push their programmes under the protection of the ministry, and even to charge money from it. As even retired Rev Yap Kim Hao has mentioned in the Straits Times forums, these CSE programmes are unlikely to be effective or informative or practical.

Why is MOE allowing taxpayers money (i.e from non-Christian and secular Singaporeans) to fund these clearly Christian, clearly impractical, clearly anti-educational programmes?

Whose philosophy? Whose transparency?

"MOE's philosophy on sexuality education is that it does not encourage nor promote masturbation, abortion and oral and anal sex."

MOE's sex education philosophy is counter to its stated objectives of tackling problems related to teenage pregnancies, STDs, sexual activity in teens.

Hardcore, ultraconservative sex education programmes have had a track record of abject failure. When GW Bush pushed them as a condition for aid to third-world countries, we have not seen data to show any relief in sex-related problems in these regions.

Instead of asking vendors for transparency, the Ministry of Education should be asked to be transparent - what groups did it consult to reach its philosophy of sex education? What criteria did it even use to say that these vendors' programmes are credible, truthful, or even "work"? Which other groups had approached the Ministry of Education and were rejected? Can the public examine the curricula and teaching material of these sex education vendors?

Officially, we live in a secular society. Even the ministers say so!

A growing list of distinguished ministers, senior ministers and deputy prime ministers and prime ministers of Singapore have made speeches and remarks over the past year about the secular nature of Singapore, repeating assurances that Singapore will never ever see the kind of cultural wars fought in schools and classrooms all across the US.

The Klever Kids at the Ministry of Education just made all these assurances worth precious little. I would like to ask Ministers Wong Kan Seng, S Jayakumar, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong just how committed they are to keeping Singapore a secular society, and in particular, keeping classrooms in Singapore free from religious activists pushing their narrow ideas of sex education.