The Catholic Church’s opposition to the nature sex education is taking under the Competency-Based Curriculum has stirred up a latent but enduring global debate over what children should or should not be taught about copulation.
Sex education in Kenyan schools has remained a perdurable flashpoint of conflict with many fronts but unfortunately salient issues which underline the realities of the 21st century youth tend to be swept under the carpet.
Early this week, Catholic bishops stirred up a hornet’s nest, demanding the removal of explicit sexual content in Health education books earmarked for Grade 7 pupils because, as they argued, it promotes family planning through contraception instead of sexual abstinence.
The clerics said the introduction of family planning and the use of contraceptives to the learners would “sexualise the learning environment’’ and lead to higher rates of teenage pregnancies and abortion.
The bishops simply underlined the church’s deep-seated tenet that it is intrinsically wrong to use contraception to stop the birth of human beings and that sex outside marriage is a sin.
Looked at from the point of view of the church’s teaching, the bishops could not have been more correct and true to their faith and calling. Yet even outside the purview of the Catholics, avoiding sex before marriage would be a logically, healthier and safer proposition for the young learners and it would naturally negate the need for contraception, which in itself carries a myriad of health risks.
The problem is that such cogency and rationale can at times be quixotic and at loggerheads with modern-day realities.
According to the recently-released report of the Presidential Working Party on Education reform, the situation on the ground is so starkly untrammeled as to warrant any degree of romanticism.
The report says teenage pregnancy is a worrying trend and that statistics indicate that one in every five girls in schools between 15-19 years of age has been exposed to sexual activities and begun childbearing.
“Early pregnancy is the main reason for school drop-out of adolescent girls. Also, it exposes young girls to health-related challenges, including mortality and morbidity due to birth-related complications and unsafe abortions,” it says.
It quotes the 2015/16 Kenya Integrated Household and Budget Survey which estimated that close to a quarter of a million adolescent girls in Kenya aged between 10 and 19 years became pregnant between July 2016 and June 2017.
A controversial report by the Kenya Health Information System in 2021 said that 152,820 adolescent girls aged between 10 and 19 were impregnated during the Covid-19 lockdown. The finding of this survey were however dismissed by then Education Cabinet Secretary the George Magoha as exaggerated.
While these figures in the education reform report might be dated, they mirror the realities in our schools and communities.
And this is why the demand by the Catholic bishops may be futile and pointless.
The biggest source of information for the 21st century human being, let alone a young learner, is the Internet, as expansive, ubiquitous and uncontrolled as it is. The Government can effectively lock out any sexual content from the basic education curriculum aiming to shield the learners from harmful or lurid material.
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The problem however is that school books provide just a fraction of the information youngsters encounter on a day-to-day basis. Grade seven learners (who are in the General Z segment) might not own smart phones but they have access to them, from their parents, older siblings, tablets and such. And even if they lack access to such, all sorts of information is relayed to them by their peers who do. Pornographic content is prevalent in many social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tiktok (the favourite and perhaps most toxic of them all.
The writer is a consulting editor ([email protected])