[WATCH] When sexual knowledge is misconstrued as ‘filth and oral rape’

This is how education officials reacted when a PSCD workbook on sexual education got an unfair rap from a deeply religious couple

Left: Stephen Camilleri, education officer for PSCD learning at the Education Department, and Stephen Cachia, director general for curriculum, speak to Kurt Sansone on how the PSCD workbook was crafted
Left: Stephen Camilleri, education officer for PSCD learning at the Education Department, and Stephen Cachia, director general for curriculum, speak to Kurt Sansone on how the PSCD workbook was crafted
PSCD Education Officer Stephen Camilleri explains the rationale behind a work book on sexual education

With images of “gay superheroes” and “youngsters in underwear”, it was no wonder that a concerned parent described a workbook for personal development lessons at school as ‘diabolical’, ‘filthy’ or even ‘oral rape’ of 10-year-olds.

And yet, this controversial PSCD workbook contained cartoon images of different family units… including one of a nun with children, a family with two fathers, another with two mothers, a single-parent household, and a Muslim family.

For, if what the public knew of the 24-page workbook employed by State schools came from what they had heard on social media, they would have been excused for thinking that children were being peddled a debauched and precocious introduction to early sexuality.

In reality, it is an educational tool to help children appreciate the diverse relationships around them and understand the physical, emotional and psychological changes they will go through.

But initial objections to the use of this book during PSCD lessons for Year 6 students, were raised in a Facebook video by two parents with deep religious convictions, leading to questions about what the book actually entailed.

Indeed, many others scandalised by what these parents said, cried foul without actually seeing the book, some lamenting that the book was “forcing children to lose their innocence at such a young age”.

I took these concerns to Stephen Camilleri, education officer for PSCD learning at the Education Department, and Stephen Cachia, director general for curriculum.

They smiled when I put the question to them.

“Children lose their innocence when they access online porn and play sexualizsed video games not when they are exposed to a workbook on relationships and sexuality… we do not protect children by not talking to them about sexuality,” Cachia said.

This book is just a drop in the ocean of the vast information, some of it warped, that children are exposed to in today’s world, he added.

“The book makes a little contribution in teaching children about relationships, sexuality and sexual abuse in a positive way and it would be unfair to deny children this information when they are exposed to so much negative messages.”

The workbook is used as part of PSCD lessons held in the last term of Year 6, when children and teachers would have grown more comfortable with each other.

Its content is “very mild” when compared to similar workbooks used abroad, Camilleri told me.

“The workbook was drawn up by experts in child psychology and discussed with teachers, and relays the information in an age-appropriate manner… it is used within the context of a class discussion during PSCD lessons and children do take the book home at the end of the year,” Camilleri said.

And meetings are held prior to the start of the lessons with parents to inform them of the course material.

“We do hold meetings with parents where PSCD teachers explain what will be taught. On occasions, we have had parents appreciating the work being done by the schools because they find sexuality an embarrassing topic to pick up with their children,” Camilleri said.

The gay factor

One of the complaints was that the book portrayed people introducing themselves as “gay superheroes”. Why this should be a problem is unclear but the book does not do this.

Flipping through the book one finds a single exchange mentioning superheroes, however, rather than having people introducing themselves as gay superheroes (not that there’s anything wrong with that), the book passage simply points out that some comic book superheroes are gay.

In another section on family, the book includes photos of different family units, introducing children to the different realities that exist around them.

“We may have children who are gay – studies show that children can already start identifying themselves as gay at age nine – or students who have relatives who are gay, or school friends who have two mothers or two fathers… these are realities that exist,” Camilleri said, adding the idea was to foster respect.

He did acknowledge that part of the apprehension was the fear, borne out of ignorance, that children would become gay if they are exposed to the gay reality.

The photo of a young man in underwear is actually a picture next to an exercise in which kids are asked to discuss various situations they might find themselves in. The scenario in question was one asking students to interpret a situation where “Ivan sent a photo of himself in his underwear to Sophia”
The photo of a young man in underwear is actually a picture next to an exercise in which kids are asked to discuss various situations they might find themselves in. The scenario in question was one asking students to interpret a situation where “Ivan sent a photo of himself in his underwear to Sophia”

Underwear and abuse

As for the photo of a young man in underwear, this is actually a picture next to an exercise in which kids are asked to discuss various situations they might find themselves in.

The scenario in question was one asking students to interpret a situation where “Ivan sent a photo of himself in his underwear to Sophia”.

The students are asked to describe how this makes Sophia feel and why, and what she can do about it.

The scenario forms part of a section on sexual abuse that some parents may have found too explicit.

Camilleri said court records and research show that child abuse is very often perpetrated by a family member, a relative or someone close to the family.

He said the scenarios presented in the book were intended to make children aware of abuse and empower them to act on it.

“It is natural for parents to live in denial, believing that their children will never experience abuse but this is not reality and children should be empowered to recognise abuse and act against it. I once attended one of the parent meetings and when the topic of abuse was broached, a mother asked whether there was anything wrong with her 12-year-old daughter being given a bath by her father. We have had instances when children opened up about sexual abuse after the PSCD lesson,” Camilleri said.

Cachia insisted the workbook provided the right information, at the right time, at the right age. “The book is age-appropriate in today’s world, not some idealised world of the past.”

But should parents be able to request their children stay out of the PSCD lessons?

The law only allows such an exemption in the case of religious studies, Cachia said.

“I understand that sexuality is a sensitive subject and could be embarrassing for some people. But PSCD is part of the national curriculum and it is an important aspect to help children throughout their development. All children have a right to know,” Cachia said.

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