Schools must not dodge sex education

SCHOOLS have their uses. They provide people with friends, role models and a safe space to grow up in.

They teach us literacy and numeracy, basic science and, if you're lucky, how to play a mean game of dodge ball.

Even though I never quite mastered the art of ball sports, there's one thing I'm sure of - sex education should be listed as another priority.

In its current form, it's up to each school to decide what its students hear in terms of relationships and sexuality education.

There are guides - Education Minister Nick McKim made good ground in 2012 - but what's required is a stronger curriculum in what's undoubtedly an important, lifelong and potentially life- changing subject.

Too many groups are left out of sex education in its current format.

It's generic, white and straight.

We know it's likely there are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people in every class.

Why aren't we ensuring these students are empowered with the knowledge to make safe decisions?

Culturally and linguistically diverse people, too, are often left behind.

Parents are provided with an interpreter to ensure that what their children are learning is appropriate, but the curriculum in its current form doesn't emphasise the potential need for differentiated classes.

Victorian academic Mimmie Ngum Chi Watts, who wrote her thesis on the subject, calls for gender-segregated classes for some cultural groups.

While Mr McKim's relationships and sexuality education strategy emphasised the importance of acknowledging difference, there's little follow-up with schools to ensure this happens. While there are resources available, already overworked teachers can't be expected to come up with appropriate lessons.

There isn't even an appointed sex education teacher for students with disabilities in the North.

Again, the onus is on teachers to decide what additional needs students learn in, again, an incredibly important subject.

There are a few things wrong with leaving sex education to parents.

We can't guarantee that parents will discuss sex with their children.

We can't guarantee the information they give is right, or that young people even have access to an older role model.

It's wrong to assume children are even comfortable discussing sex with their parents, or are going to be honest enough to have their needs addressed.

And while the government did its best in its informative Talk Soon, Talk Often resource for parents and carers, the extensive booklet assumes a level of literacy that may be beyond some people.

All children and teens should have access to the information they need from a reputable source to make informed choices sexually.

Tasmania has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation, high rates of sexually transmitted infections and a particularly high rate of suicide among LGBTI teens.

We can and do schedule classes to address this - let's make sure what people are hearing is factual, inclusive and empowering.

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