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February 9, 2018

Sindh’s plan to revise school curricula is easier said than done


February 9, 2018

In the wake of recent child sexual abuse cases, the Sindh government has decided to refocus school curricula to life skills-based education (LSBE). The plan, however, is under fire from religious quarters.

The government plans to update science, social studies, English, Urdu and Sindhi textbooks at primary and secondary levels to include chapters on physical abuse, self-esteem, body autonomy, human rights, female education, developmental changes, health and hygiene, personal hygiene, gender equality, marriage rights, violence and self-defence, peer pressure, communication and decision-making.

The provincial administration has approved LSBE to be integrated into the curricula for grades six to nine at public and private schools from the next academic year, and are now mulling over courses for grades three to five.

Criticism of LSBE

Jamia Binoria Chancellor Mufti Muhammad Naeem said implementation of Islamic teachings would save society from wickedness. “Those who demand sex education in schools are western agents.”

He claimed that some people had been trying to impose western culture on the people of the country, saying that Islam has solutions to every socio-economic challenge.

“In the past 15 to 20 years some elements have destroyed Pakistani culture through a well-planned projection of glamour in the media. It’s the responsibility of politicians, religious scholars and parents to play a role in eliminating social evils through Islamic education.”

Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) Information Secretary Aneeq Ahmed Tabish said that after the Kasur incident, demanding sex education in schools would be considered an attack on the ideology of Pakistan. He said human rights could be protected by following Islamic teachings, adding that the IJT would not allow anyone to sabotage the country’s social norms and values. “We shall not accept these changes in the syllabi that can stray our society from the right path.”

‘Kids need to know’

Kashif Anthony Javeed of the National Commission for Justice and Peace said that for ensuring a tolerant society, children needed to be made aware of social evils.

He said parents and teachers together could make students understand about them through effective communication and curricula, adding that people protested against incidents like the Kasur one, but did not focus on rooting out such evils.

In his book ‘Sex Education of Children and Adolescents’, psychiatrist Dr Syed Mubin Akhter addresses the question on everybody’s mind: at what age to discuss sex with children.

“The correct approach is that, like in the case of other information, whenever a child wants to know about some aspect of this subject, tell them only as much as they have asked.”

He stresses that for sex education, nobody can be a better guide than parents. “When parents become guides and friends, children will not be afraid of asking questions.” A child starts asking questions as soon as he starts talking, and those include questions related to the sexual parts of the body, he writes.

“People do not want to talk to their children, especially girls, about such matters, but what will happen if they are involved in some dangerous situation due to ignorance; then they will have to suffer the consequences.”

He explains that during adolescence boys and girls usually gain information about sexual matters, not from their parents and teachers but from other sources like friends, books and magazines that are usually substandard and devoid of not only correct medical and psychological information but also of the teachings of the Quran, Hadith and sharia.

“In this way our youth remain ignorant of medical and religious information, and become victims of several false beliefs and worries regarding these matters.”  

Protecting children

On January 15 the Sindh government approved reconstituting an 18-member committee, headed by Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, for effective implementation of child protection rights.

The committee will monitor the implementation of the decisions regarding integration of LSBE in school curricula as well as the progress of teachers’ training for better execution of the government’s plan.

Ten days later, a meeting comprising education authorities decided that 700 teachers and 540 master trainers would be coached in the first phase of the life skills learning programme, and these trained educators would coach 40,000 teachers across the province during the next phase.

Dr Fouzia Khan, head of the education department’s curriculum wing, said LSBE was part of the National Education Policy and the National Youth Policy, and it focused on inculcating information and skills in children and adolescents to protect them and lead healthy lives.

LSBE implementation

The Sindh government had initiated work on LSBE in 2015, and integrated the relevant content in the syllabi of urban and rural schools run by the government.

The curriculum wing had inked an MoU with the NGO Aahung in 2016 to introduce modules on LSBE. Later, a technical team comprising representatives of the Bureau of Curriculum, the Sindh Textbook Board and the Provincial Institute of Teacher Education were taken onboard to introduce these modules in the core curricula.

Dr Fouzia said the information was critical if we wanted to move forward with social development, build a society that was safer for our children and prevent further tragedies like the Kasur one.  

Public-private partnership

Governmental and non-governmental organisations have been working on curricula to bring positive changes in society. Aahung has worked extensively to address child sexual abuse through the LSBE curricula implemented in around 400 primary and secondary schools around the country.

The NGO worked with teachers and caregivers on helping children stay safe, and also initiated campaigns to raise awareness among parents. Aahung also issued brochures aimed at parents and teachers as well as guiding everyone about protecting children from sexual harassment.

The curriculum wing has also taken onboard other NGOs to make the syllabi effective for the safety of children in schools. Besides Aahung, the other organisations include Zindagi Trust, the Indus Resources Centre and T2F.

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