The Equal Opportunities Commission just released “A Study on Comprehensive Sexuality Education in Secondary Schools of Hong Kong”. Sex education in Hong Kong is found to be quite inadequate. Only around half of the schools surveyed offered five hours or less for imparting the knowledge of sex in a school year, and over 90 percent of schools provided no more than 20 hours in a school year.
I am not surprised by this result at all. However, as much as I believe in the importance of sex education, I have always argued that the teaching should be embedded in life education, which should be mandatory, not only for schoolchildren, but also for teachers and parents. The sad thing is that from time to time, there are reports of teachers and tutors having an affair with their students, students facing sexual abuse at home or sexual harassment from their fellow students, and some were even talked into “compensated dating”. All these need to be prevented at the source. The lack of respect for life and for others needs to be corrected.
When Liberal Studies was introduced in 2009 as one of four core (mandatory) subjects for senior secondary school students. I was delighted to see that Personal Development and Interpersonal Relationships were listed on top of the six modules to be covered.
Unfortunately, I soon found out that there was very little coverage of this area in practice in the Diploma of Secondary Education examination. As a result, teachers rarely spend time on this area at all, and the delivery of the course on the ground became problematic. Moreover, instead of learning the skills and the attitude required of critical thinking, students and teachers learned to be arrogant, and tended to imagine that they were always right and others were always wrong. They would then criticize others instead of critically examining their thinking process and looking for facts. I had argued multiple times that critical thinking should be included in the Citizenship and Social Development course, and that this is important for national security. Critical thinking should be exercised to further the common good, and this requires allusion to the Golden Rule: putting oneself in the shoes of others. If one would do this, one would never commit sexual assault against others, nor would one circulate the private pictures of others. There would be no gender discrimination. There would be no cyberbullying. There would certainly be fewer tragedies. Regrettably, in my own survey on school students’ happiness and life education, in our sample only 42 percent of the teachers report having had some training in life education. In the Equal Opportunities Commission report, 47.6 percent of the responding schools said that their staff members who taught sex education had not taken any relevant professional development courses. This is worrisome.
I think it is very important that all teachers take a well-designed course in life education that includes sex education as a component. Teachers interact with their students often, and they should be sensitive to potential problems related to personal development and interpersonal relations. Such problems could be bullying in the classroom, cyberbullying, sexual harassment, domestic violence, or abuse including possibly sexual abuse, anxiety related to dating/breakups, and compensated dating. Teachers are expected to mingle with and know their students, and they can build up the trust that is necessary for students to tell them about things that bother them. If necessary, they should get help from the school social worker, but they must not act as if they have no role at all, while the school social worker should take care of all the issues listed above.
I see parenting as an important part of sex education. Giving birth and becoming parents is a natural consequence of sexual activities, and those involved in sexual activities need to be aware of the responsibilities and take their responsibilities seriously. Incidents of child abuse involving young parents who take no responsibility for their children have happened time and again. In any case, correct parenting requires a lot of wisdom and a suitable temperament. People lacking in self-control and those who lose their temper easily are not ready to be parents. Still, most people can learn to be good parents with guidance and the determination to do so. Parenting education is best conducted in schools before people get married and become parents. The fact is that young parents are often “too busy” to spend time to learn parenting skills, even if they have the good intention to do so.
The Equal Opportunities report proposed creating a post called “sex education coordinator” for each school “to coordinate and take charge of matters related to sex education”. I would recommend creating a post called “life education coordinator” for each school, to coordinate and take charge of matters related to life education, including sex education and parenting education. Sex education isolated from life education is odd, and could actually make people think of sex as special and not part of life education in general. But one cannot teach respect for the opposite sex, and respect for one’s offspring’s lives if sexuality is seen in isolation from life.
The author is the director of the Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS