As a teacher who wants to protect the rights of pregnant girls and help them avoid an early end to their professional development, I applaud the Ministry of Education’s amendment of the High School Student Performance Evaluation Methods (學生成績考查法) that allows high school girls and boys to take maternity, paternity and parental leave without flunking.
But the measures are not enough. In the past five years, about 7,000 to 8,000 babies have been born in Taiwan to girls between 15 and 19 years old, but according to ministry statistics from 2006, only 153 high school or vocational school students became pregnant. This huge gap shows that most teen mothers drop out of school, and even if they can take leave, the number finishing school is very low.
We must also show why high school girls get pregnant. Is it appropriate to get pregnant at that age? Developed countries strive to lower the teenage pregnancy rate, which is also an important indicator of the efficiency of sex education.
The pregnancy rate for 15 to 19-year-old Taiwanese girls over the past five years is 11.8 percent — or just over one in every 10. This is three times higher than Japan’s rate of 4 percent, and more than four times higher than South Korea’s 2.8 percent.
Why can’t we lower the teen pregnancy rate, take action to protect girls’ sexual health and teach boys responsible sexual behavior? The most important reason is that sex education has not been properly implemented.
According to a 2004 survey by the Preparatory Office of the National Academy of Educational Research, sex education in schools is often incorporated into health education classes. However, in high school health education, only 37.7 percent of classes are taught by qualified staff, while the rest are taught by teachers of other subjects.
Health education is, in effect, a supplementary subject. This situation is reflected in the Health and Nursing classes for high schools and vocational high schools that were introduced in 2006. Basic-level teachers for these classes said that when first-year students were asked if they had received any sex education, only about half said yes, and half of these students said their teachers glossed over the use of condoms and other methods of contraception with a spoken introduction.
Sex education is not about passing on knowledge; it’s about teaching values. Sex education is not about teaching girls and boys sexual positions; it is intended to inform students on healthy relations between the sexes.
In sex education, how the subject is taught is more important than what is actually taught. A school is a place for education, and the focus should be on education, results and prevention.
Now that the ministry is allowing pregnant high school students to take various forms of leave, it should also emphasize the importance of sex education and not wait until students become pregnant before addressing their problems.
Sweden was the first country to include sex education in school curriculums. The main supporter of this policy, Elise Ottesen-Jensen, founder of the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education, said in 1937: “I dream of the day when every newborn child is welcome, when men and women are equal, and when sexuality is an expression of intimacy, joy and tenderness.”
Compared with other Asian countries, Taiwan has the advantage of teaching sex education from elementary school to the second year of high school. If it can strengthen the professionalism of teachers and continue reforms that improve sex education, then it will be able to better protect students’ rights and be a model for the development of sex education in the region.
Kao Sung-ching is president of the Taiwan Association for Sex Education.
TRANSLATED BY ANNA STIGGELBOUT
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