Social worker and advocate for young people, George Griffith, has accused the administrators of Barbados’ education system of going back on a United Nations agreement to introduce sexual education in schools for HIV and disease prevention.
The retired Barbados Family Planning Association (BFPA) executive director made the charge last night during a Barbados National Council of Parent-Teacher Associations (NCPTA) panel discussion.
Entitled Transitioning From Primary to Secondary School, it was aimed at assisting parents whose children sat this year’s Common Entrance Examination and will be entering secondary school from September.
Other panelists were University of the West Indies, Cave Hill lecturer in the Faculty of Education Dr Ian Marshall; Clinical Psychologist at the Psychiatric Hospital Dr Dahlia Gibson; and Guidance Counsellor at Daryll Jordan Secondary School Saul Leacock.
Griffith spoke of sexual activity in primary schools that intensifies when children move into secondary schools. He bemoaned the lack of full sexual education to protect young people.
“There is an aversion to dealing with sexuality issues within the school system. Some schools would rather pretend that they do not exist,” he said.
He noted that at a UNESCO Caribbean and Latin America hemispheric 2008 meeting, there was agreement for all attending nations to introduce comprehensive education on sexuality in schools.
“Some countries have tried but, with respect to Barbados, the view is that Health and Family Life Education is what they’re going with, in a number of other Caribbean countries as well, because people do not want to deal with comprehensive sexuality education.”
He said the avoidance of this type of teaching in schools is “largely because comprehensive sexuality education, as opposed to Health and Family Life education, deals with sexual diversity. And a number of other issues are included in the curriculum”.
The 2008 UNESCO conference to which Griffith referred, was a ministerial level meeting held in Mexico where a 2015 implementation deadline was set. Barbados’ ministers of education and health were listed among the representatives who signed the agreement that committed this island to the declaration.
Styled the ‘First Meeting of Ministers of Health and Education to stop HIV and STIs in Latin America and the Caribbean Ministerial’, the meeting produced a declaration titled, ‘Preventing through Education’.
Among the committed goals was “by 2015, reduce by 75 per cent the number of schools under the jurisdiction of the Ministries of Education that have failed to institutionalize comprehensive sex education”.
Griffith said to parents and teachers attending the Monday night meeting, “Unless parents across Barbados and the PTAs make a serious push for the introduction of this, we’re not going to see it anytime soon in Barbados. What is taught is a very diluted form [of it] and it deals largely with the biological issues.”
But he charged “we know that there is a lot of sexual activity within the school system,” and pointed to a Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) survey of a sample group of 1,629 Barbadian children aged 13 to 15.
Included in that survey’s findings were “that boys are more likely to be sexually active by age 14 with two or more sexual partners; 44.9 boys, and 25.4 per cent of girls [in the group] had engaged in sexual intercourse by age 13.”
Griffith said: “If you doubt that there is a lot of sexual activity in the school system, check to see the number of STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) that are seen by private doctors, and the polyclinics.
“Look at the number of children who have given birth in Barbados over time, [aged] 10, 11, 12, and 13, and the number who had to have pregnancies terminated simply because they felt that they were just too young to take on responsibilities of parenting.”
Continuing his argument for the introduction of comprehensive sexuality education, Griffith said.
“I know it can make the world of difference to the lives of the children”.
“You know how many educational opportunities are dashed, how much emotional wreckage is left simply because children are sexually involved, but they are not mature enough to deal with it?” he asked.