For the longest time, any discussion of sex or sexuality was frowned upon, as the entire topic was seen as a taboo. This meant, that the group, who were the most vulnerable, and whose awareness of such matters was crucial, were left ignorant.
This group ranged from children to young adults. Things took a turn for the better in 1993, when directives were taken by the education department.
The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) came up with a module on sex education. It was first called sex education, and then sexuality education and finally renamed ‘adolescence education’, and it was combined with life skills.
As Dr Namita Ranganathan, a member of the chair committee of NCERT (National Council of Education Research and Training) and CBSE who initiated this programme, says, “The whole idea behind this was that it should be seen as a part of growing up. As such all aspects of growing up, such as puberty, sexuality, and body image would be discussed, as these are concerns that children would have to make sense of. They had combined the course with life skills, which is the ability to make decisions, to have effective communication, to maintain good inter-personal relations, and to solve problems etc. In this way it becomes a holistic adolescent education programme.”
This programme has modules on growing up, prevention of substance abuse and HIV/AIDS. They also have a course on social issues related to sex and sexuality, such as building perspectives on sex workers. In the Kendriya Vidyalaya schools (central government), they follow the curriculum that the NCERT had developed. The adolescence education programmes even take place in the residential government schools, (Navodaya Vidyalaya). In addition to this, private schools also call experts to hold workshops and sensitivity-training on these subjects for their students.
“It is important to understand that this model had not been developed because of any problem that had arisen. It had been developed with the aim of helping to prevent sexual abuse, or any kind of exploitation from taking place,” explains Ranganathan.
Growing up is already hard for children, with the pressure of academics and exams. Meenu Arora, counsellor at Sanskriti School,says,”We now have workshop sessions on the issues of growing up, from Class V. All these sessions, on body image issues, certain social aspect, life skills, help students understand the topic better. It is better now that they understand these issues, and discuss them in a safe space.” She goes on to highlight the difference between discussing these issues, and lecturing them.
“Students are more receptive if they can all discuss the issue, rather than having an authority figure lecture them. It’s important they be given the space and freedom to do so.” Arora also adds, that it is vital these programmes be part of the regular curriculum. CBSE has also connected this course to the textbooks, discussed it in subjects such as biology and social science.
HOW STUDENTS VIEW IT
But students feel the module should have a stronger presence. Aditya Sehagal, a Class XI student at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Mehta Vidyalaya, says there is a lot of ground to be covered. “Other than career counselling sessions done in Class XI , and two chapters, one each in Class IX and X, on reproduction, issues like bullying, sex education, the changes in our bodies, etc are not addressed at all. Some of my friends in class XI are ill-informed on these subjects and I feel that this will have serious impact on their future.”
Akanksha Patel, formerly at Sanskriti, now at DPS, says, “We used to have a workshop where professionals used to talk to the students about pertinent issues. These started in Class IV. Major issues were discussed such as bullying. The teachers encouraged us to approach them after the session if we wanted to talk to them privately. Moreover, we had excellent counsellors who supported us and helped us solve our problems. We were also segregated on the basis of gender and our teacher informed us about the changes to our body and what we could expect over the next few years.”
Sex education has also been introduced in National Open School Curriculum, and in National Institute of Open Schooling curriculum, as students in these courses are discontinuous learners who resume their education after a gap. The form keeps adapting over the years, and nature keeps changing, as and when there are new developments.
Teachers say that with the changing times, there is no resistance to the subject being taught in the classrooms. “In fact”, as Ranganathan informs, “it is taught in all B.Ed and M.Ed programmes as a specialisation, so that all those who are training to be teachers are qualified to take up the subject in schools.” Students must have a balanced idea of one’s emotional, mental, and physical health, and they must be made aware of matters such as substance abuse and HIV/AIDS. These are the years where it matters the most.