As debate rages over a controversial component to the health and family life education (HFLE) curriculum in schools, the island’s teachers’ unions say they know nothing about the programme.
The contentious comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) programme, which is being taught by the Barbados Family Planning Association (BFPA), is causing consternation among child advocates and religious leaders, including Government Senator and founder and senior pastor of Restoration Ministries David Durant, who described it as “one of the greatest assaults on the health and innocence of children”.
However, while supporters and opponents engage in fiery debate over the merits and demerits of CSE, both the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) and the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) said they had been left out of the process, even though their members would be impacted.
“I really am not au fait with it. We have not been included as a union. We have not been included in this whole process,” BSTU President Mary Redman told Barbados TODAY.
“I don’t know the content, I don’t know the agenda, I don’t know who is funding it, I don’t know the values . . . whose values or morals are being pushed. I only know what I have gleaned from the media,” Redman added.
In a discussion on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation’s television talk show, The People’s Choice on Sunday night, Chairman of the children’s charity ProtEqt Children’s Foundation Dr Veronica Evelyn stopped just short of describing the teaching of CSE as a free for all.
Evelyn, whose charity works in schools across the island, charged that there was no policy on what should be taught or no consistent content, and the teachers lacked proper training needed to deliver HFLE.
Asked Tuesday if CSE was being taught by members of her union, Redman bluntly replied that she did not know.
“I know there is an HFLE programme in the schools, and I do not know if this is the same programme, or if this is an amendment to that programme or if it is something to totally replace what already exists as HFLE.”
The BSTU leader said HFLE had been taught here for a long time, and doubted the CSE programme was the identical curriculum.
Meanwhile, BUT President Pedro Shepherd said his union was not consulted either and he too, was in the dark on the subject.
Shepherd told Barbados TODAY all he knew was the “little piece” he saw on The People’s Business on Sunday night.
“I don’t know if it is a problem in our schools with our teachers because nobody has brought it to my attention,” he said.
“I have not been officially informed of any challenges with it . . . . I am not aware of it [the CSE] either. I know of the health and family life syllabus, but I don’t know of this particular thing that they were referring to on Sunday,” the BUT head stressed.
CSE is one of the United Nations’ key strategies for combating the spread of HIV and AIDS among children and young people, and is described by the UN agency UNESCO, as “an age-appropriate, culturally relevant approach to teaching about sex and relationships by providing scientifically accurate, realistic, non-judgmental information.”
UNESCO says that by adopting a comprehensive strategy, CSE emphasizes “an approach to sexuality education that encompasses the full range of information skills and values to enable young people to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights and to make decisions about their health and sexuality”.
In stating his opposition to the programme, Durant recently said it had an almost excessive focus on teaching children how to obtain sexual pleasure and gratification in various ways, including masturbation, anal and oral sex.
But social worker and former executive director of the Family Planning Association George Griffith has defended CSE, writing in his column in Barbados TODAY that Durant’s opposition to the subject was “rooted in a set of deep-sated myths and downright misinformation based on denial and failure to accept that in this day and age, our children cannot be insulated from the realities of today’s 21st century world”.
In fact, Griffith thinks people who sought to deny children access to CSE “based on their denial, fear, homophobic disposition or warped religious beliefs” were doing the children a great disservice. [email protected]