The Department of Basic Education will be offering exhaustive sex education lessons at schools in a bid to reduce the high rate of pupil pregnancies.
Details of the department’s comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) programme are contained in the national policy on the prevention and management of learner pregnancy in schools which was gazetted for public comment on February 23.
Some of the topics for discussion during life orientation lessons will include gender roles and sexual orientation, the influence of power in sexual relationships and the need for “responsible and protective behaviour”.
“Gender issues will constitute a central part of education on gender rights, sexual and reproductive health and contraception empowering female learners in particular to fulfil their role as full and equal partners in education, society and national development,” according to the document.
Gender issues will constitute a central part of education on gender rights, sexual and reproductive health and contraception empowering female learners in particular to fulfil their role as full and equal partners in education, society and national development.
The policy stressed that schools should ensure that comprehensive sexuality education became part of the curriculum and that it was “initiated as early as possible”.
It stated that scientifically-accurate, age-appropriate and comprehensive information on delayed sexual debut, abstinence, contraception and termination of pregnancy services would be made available to all pupils.
Teachers could refer pregnant girls to health clinics or school nurses for information on pregnancy termination.
The policy also made provision for teacher trainees at universities to be exposed to curricula on sexual and reproductive health, decision-making and pupil pregnancy prevention measures.
Basic Education Department officials told parliament in November last year that the comprehensive sexuality education lessons were aimed at addressing the “drivers of teen pregnancies” such as early sexual debut, transactional relationships and multiple concurrent relationships.
The writing of “scripted lesson plans” for life orientation teachers of grades 4-6 and 10-12 classes took place between September 11-22 last year.
According to the department’s annual school survey data, there were an estimated 15,504 pregnant pupils in schools countrywide in 2015.
“Unintended pregnancy among learners is not new to the basic education system but its scale and impact have reached the point where it requires a systemic policy and structured implementation planning,” the policy stated.
It confirmed that pregnant pupils must not be excluded from school and that they must stay in school during their pregnancy and return soon after giving birth.
“The school is required to accommodate the reasonable needs of the learner to ensure that her right to education is not disrupted or ended by pregnancy or birth.”
The policy also sounded a warning to teachers and other pupils that they may not discriminate against pregnant learners or abuse them.
Unintended pregnancy among learners is not new to the basic education system but its scale and impact have reached the point where it requires a systemic policy and structured implementation planning.
On the controversial issue of condoms being made available to pupils, the document stated: “Reasonable access to male and female condoms will be made available to all learners aged 12 and above, dependent on their level of inquiry or need.”
Nontuthuzelo Fuzile, head of programmes at loveLife, said the comprehensive sexuality education programme was “long overdue” in South Africa.
“This started in other African countries more than a decade ago. It is only now that we are trying to look beyond sex education.”
She said the programme linked children and teenagers to youth adolescent friendly services beyond school hours.
“We do get informal feedback in areas where we have a strong element of youth-friendly services that teen pregnancies have gone down.”
But Nkosiphendule Ntantala, president of the National Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa), said he hoped that the government was not trying to escape from appointing psychologists and therapists to assist pupils with social problems by trying to get teachers to teach sexuality education.
“Some of the children engage in these early sexual activities because of their social circumstances. Just teaching a curriculum at school does not begin to resolve the problem because there is an underlying problem that must be dealt with by a specialist.”
He said teachers were already burdened with “curriculum overload” as well as the demands of teaching the curriculum within a year.
Said Ntantala: “Some parents are also sceptical about that which is going to be taught to their children. You have parents who subscribe to certain religious beliefs and, in the final analysis, it is incumbent on the parent to decide that which must be taught to their children.”
Suzaan Mellet, manager for support services at the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas), said the policy “was very vague and does not give clear guidelines on the actual management of learner pregnancy at the school level”.