India is finding it difficult to implement sex education in public schools. The Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan set off a firestorm over the future of sex education. The controversy started in June when the Times of India publicised his vision, in which he wrote that “so-called sex education” should be banned.
The ensuing public outcry sent Vardhan scrambling to clarify his words, reports Khabar South Asia.
“I never said sex education should be banned. The present format is full of vulgarisms which have to go,” Vardhan said in a statement soon after. “I want a sex education curriculum which instils values of gender equity in young minds. The existing system is inadequate and the search for the right pedagogy will continue.”
His remark, nonetheless, inspired more debate.
Columnist and author Shobhaa De told Khabar South Asia, “Sex education for adolescents is part of the curriculum in most progressive countries. It is essential for young minds to be influenced by healthy regard for sexuality. This offsets many of the social evils that affect women in particular.”
For youths, sex education and information about safe sex is limited.
“Though the federal government developed the Adolescence Education Programme (AEP) in 2008, there are very few states that have implemented it in schools simply because teachers are too embarrassed to take it up before their students,” former Education Minister Manohar Joshi told Khabar.
Most states, including those run by then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Congress party, rejected the AEP. One alleged concern was that students would laugh at sexual details instead of learning from the lessons. Kerala was one of the states that rejected the AEP.
“There was opposition to the content that forced us to withhold it from government schools,” then-state Education Minister M.A. Baby told Khabar. “But private schools have implemented it.”
Some educators see private schools as more open to sex education, and public schools – which a majority of India’s children attend – avoiding it.
“It is very easy for a politician to get media mileage by staging a demonstration against a controversial subject like sex education. Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has got more publicity (lately) than he did in his entire life as a political leader. So, most school administrators exercise their veto on sex education,” former Delhi Education Minister Kiran Ahluwalia told Khabar.
“A bit of information on human reproduction is passed on through biology lessons, but AEP is absent from such schools, even those attended by children from rich families,” Mala Sen, principal of Hyderabad’s Julien School, told Khabar.