By Sunday Eno-Abasi
On Thursday, 3 November 2022, the Federal Government directed the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) to delete sex education from the Basic Education Curriculum (BEC). The NERDC is an agency of the Federal Government that is charged with the responsibility of implementing educational policies in the country.
Headed by its executive secretary, Prof. Ismail Junaidu, the organisation, which prides itself as the think-tank of Nigerian education and development, was formally recognised by law in 1988 through an enabling Decree No. 53 (now ACT No. 53) that merged four educational research and development bodies into a single agency.
The Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, while declaring open the Ministerial Session of the 66th National Council on Education (NCE) meeting, in Abuja, with the theme: “Strengthening of Security and Safety in Nigerian Schools for the Achievement of Education 2030 Agenda,” shocked many when he said that immediately he saw sex education in the basic education curriculum, he called the attention of the NERDC executive secretary to see that it was expunged.
Adamu who at the event described Nigeria as a religious country where morals and values are taught in churches and mosques, in addition to efforts of the parents, emphasised that these were enough to shape children’s conduct, hence his conviction that sex education should be left in the hands of parents and religious leaders, rather than school teachers.
Said Adamu: “When my attention was drawn to the document, I called the Executive Secretary of NERDC and ask him why did I see this again, because immediately I saw this I called him and he assured me that he was going to act on it.” The extant 9-year basic education curriculum (BEC), which has only 10 subject listing at the basic education level, was approved for use for teaching and learning throughout the country in 2015.
Why the exclusion of sex education is being pushed aggressively without extensive consultations with stakeholders, barely six months to the end of the life of this present administration remains a mystery, more or less. In addition to that, how this is done leaves a lot of room for suspicion and questioning of the rationale behind the development. For instance, in other climes, the abolition of educational policies, including improvement/amendment to schools’ curricula ought to be the outcome of rigorous brainstorming sessions and widespread consultations with stakeholders. They are also a result of the compelling need to bring up to speed, these all-important documents that ultimately dictate what diets are included in learners’ menus.
Such weighty and consequential decisions should never be taken at the whims and caprices of anyone, including the education minister who serves as the country’s chief education officer.
in 2018, the Federal Government restored history in the educational curriculum after it scored an own goal by removing the all-important subject from the curriculum in the 2009/2010 academic session. Presently recovering from the consequences of that untoward development, civil society groups, scholars and stakeholders from diverse spectrums roundly condemned that action, and are still deploring the lingering consequences.
At last week’s public presentation of a book titled, “Foundation of Nigeria’s Unity,” written by the Cross River State People’s Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate, Senator Sandy Onor, Senate President, who is still amazed by the consequence of history’s removal in the school curriculum said: “We were misguided some years ago that history should be removed in our school’s curriculum, and I wonder what we intended to achieve then when even science has a history. Thank God we saw the fallacy in that decision and it was reversed.”
It is in light of the above that the proposed removal of sex education is attracting diverse reactions. Indeed, there is unanimity that the move can undermine efforts to stem the surging tide of deaths arising from teenage pregnancy-related causes, as well as negate the very essence of comprehensive sexuality education, which is aimed at protecting children and helping to build a safer and more inclusive society.
It is on record that the Federal Ministry of Education, in 2015, moved to improve access to quality basic education, with the development of a document titled, “Education for Change: A Ministerial Strategic Plan (MSP) (2018-2023).”
One of the major challenges that the document was supposed to address was slashing to the barest minimum, the number of out-of-school children through several programmes, one of which is the Accelerated Basic Education Programme (ABEP), an alternative basic education programme for out-of-school children and youth aged 10 to 18 years.
“The specific goal of the programme is to reduce the number of out-of-school children to the barest minimum among the ranks of the disadvantaged, the marginalised, and those affected by crises, disasters, and other socio-economic factors,” Adamu had said.
Be that as it may, Nigeria has every reason to take the issue of sex education very seriously at the basic education level because of the frightening statistics that ignorance of sex education could further throw up. For the records, Nigeria carries nine per cent of the global HIV disease burden, which is the second-largest in the world.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about seven Nigerian women die every hour from pregnancy-related causes, just as the WHO, the United Nations, and the World Bank maintain that Nigeria accounts for 19 per cent of maternal deaths worldwide. It is in light of these grim realities that every well-meaning Nigerian believes that information relating to sexual decisions and options should never be exclusive or kept away from young persons.
As a matter of fact, contrary to what many Nigerian parents believe, a reasonable number of adolescents, especially females, have their maiden sexual encounter as early as 14 years, while their male counterparts average do so at about 16 years. This much was confirmed by the National Health Demographic Survey (NDHS). The 2003-2018 edition of the survey, which is the latest in the series indicated that women aged 25-49 had a median age of 17 years for their first sexual encounter, compared to 21 years for men aged 30-59. Also, 19 per cent of women begin sexual activities before the age of 15, and 57 per cent begin before the age of 18.
With such early commencement of sexual activities, Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE), experts insist, is a sine qua none for improving adolescents’ knowledge and attitude towards positive sexual and reproductive health and behaviours. With parenthood being the biggest factor that teen girls drop out of school, this 2018 DHS, which is the most recent national data on teenage pregnancy (it’s carried out every five years), underscores the compelling need for the Federal Government to take CSE seriously. According to the United Nations Population Fund, adolescent or teenage pregnancy, (which the WHO defines as pregnancies occurring in young women between the ages of 10 and 19) is a direct consequence of rising cases of child marriage in Nigeria.
Ironically, in the North, teenage pregnancy simply flourishes and the 2018 survey confirmed that female teenagers in the North West were almost five times, that is 29 per cent as likely to have had children as their peers in South West region six per cent. It further illustrated that in Lagos State, a large cosmopolitan area in the South West, only one per cent of adolescent women had started having children, in comparison to a mouthwatering 41 per cent of teens in Bauchi State, which is in the North East.
In addition to the prevalent low level of education, and high poverty levels in regions where teenage pregnancies occur, experts also note that teenage pregnancy also induces a higher risk of preeclampsia, anaemia, contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), rising cases of premature delivery, as well as delivering at low birth weight. Because of the constraints that ignorance-fuelled teenage pregnancy imposes on the country’s over-burdened health sector, and the educational backwardness that it subjects victims to, coupled with the centuries-long practice of Nigerian parents keeping sex and sexuality issues under the veil from their children and wards, giving teenage boys and girls full access to the sexuality knowledge is invaluable.
As parents and now the Federal Government continue to disapprove of sex education for teens because of the fear that it would lead to promiscuity amongst them, multiple peer-reviewed research, including a thorough WHO study has indicated that sex education programmes that educate youths about abstinence and contraception do not lead to increased sexual activity, neither do they encourage adolescents to engage in sex at a younger age.
Opposition to removal of sex education mounts
A few days after the pronouncement was made, a coalition of 53 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) urged the Federal Government to reconsider its stance to remove sex education from the curriculum. The CSOs including the Global Women’s Health, Rights and Empowerment Initiative (GWHREI); International Centre for Sexual Reproductive Rights (INCRESE); Initiative For Women’s Health Development and Rights Protection (WRAHI); Education As A Vaccine; South East Professional Woman Association of Nigeria and Diaspora (SEPWAND); Stand With a Girl Initiative (SWAG); Sustainable Collective Advocacy for Africa Development Initiative (SCAAD); Dorothy Njemaze Foundation Greater Women Initiative for Health and Right (GWIHR), and the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Imo State Chapter, among others, described the development as retrogressive. The groups noted that what informed the introduction of the Family Life and HIV Education (FLHE) curriculum was rising incidences of gender-based violence, rape, child sexual abuse and sundry sexual crimes that are detrimental to the health and general well-being of young persons.
“The FLHE curriculum was approved by the same National Council on Education in 2002 because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the constant rising incidents among adolescents and young people. It became imperative to adopt strategies that would centre this vulnerable group at the heart of prevention and response. One such strategy was the adaptation of the school curriculum. In its definition, the FLHE curriculum ‘is a planned process of education that fosters the acquisition of factual information, formation of positive attitudes, beliefs and values as well as development of skills to cope with the biological, psychological, sociocultural and spiritual aspects of human living. The curriculum aims to provide information and skills that are necessary for young people to make rational decisions about their bodies, as well as information that can affect and change their behaviours positively, as well as prevent the spread of HIV.”
They further maintained: “anyone who has interacted with this curriculum would know that it is set to provide the support and guidance adolescents and young people need to navigate through the changing phases of their lives that are so critical, and most experienced while they go through the basic and senior secondary education, and would also know that this curriculum is not against any religious or cultural groups or teachings in this country. It is pertinent to mention that parents, teachers, traditional and religious leaders, policymakers and implementers across all states of the federation were actively involved in the drafting of the content of the FLHE.
“As with a curriculum that has been implemented for 20 years, huge resources have been invested in making this implementation effective both by government, donors, and civil society. From the research, numerous consultations and workshops to effectively incorporate it in school subjects working with the NERDC, to training of teachers to be equipped to effectively deliver lessons and adapting various programmes to support the efforts of the government to provide education that is meeting the needs of a learner in the 21st century. The implementation addresses and supports learners to navigate experiences that come with their social, physical and mental development. It provides the skills to foster positive relationships with parents, peers, and their communities and promotes healthy behaviour.”
The CSOs stressed that it is important to make reference to the fact that “a learner would have spent over 15, 000 hours of their active time in school, after 12 years of education. The socialisation that takes place in school is critical because of the number of time learners in formal education must spend there, which cannot be compared with the amount of time they have with their parents after school, or before school.” They underscored the need to focus on pressing issues like ensuring a permanent end to strikes in tertiary institutions, improving learning infrastructure, and strategic proposals on how to reduce the number of out-of-school children especially girls, and other issues that must be addressed with sustainable solutions that will also position the education sector in Nigeria to be competitive among other nations in Africa.
Parents, Religious Leaders Incapable Of Teaching Sex Education
The wife of the immediate past governor of Ekiti State, Erelu Bisi Fayemi, in a letter she wrote to the education minister, “strongly” disagreed with his assertion that parents and religious leaders should be solely responsible for sex education. After painting pictures of heart-wrenching episodes that youths go through owing to the lack of comprehensive sex education, she stressed: “Times are very hard in the country. Parents struggle to keep food on the table, roofs over their heads, and clothes on the backs of their children. Even where education is free, there are still costs, which many parents cannot afford. This is why they spend time working to make ends meet.
“Yes, I agree they should spend more time with their children, but they do have to work for survival. The religious leaders you mentioned sir, are not always helpful. The majority are true men (and women) of God, but we also have a handful who have no business being left alone with young children. If you are in doubt sir, please ask NAPTIP to show you their national list of sex offenders. A good number of teachers who populate the education architecture that you are responsible for are also guilty of misconduct when it comes to the sexual exploitation of children.
“For these reasons sir, we need to talk about sex to our children. We need them to know about their bodies, rights and responsibilities. This is a task for families, religious institutions, schools and the community at large,” the former governor’s wife, who is a gender specialist and social entrepreneur said. “Any parent would agree that they have primary responsibility for talking to their children about sex and related matters.
Parents, however, do not bring their children up in isolation. Children spend long hours outside of the home in schools and even when they are at home, parents are either too busy, too prudish or in too much denial to have these conversations.
“We go to great lengths to teach our children right from wrong, yet they still have to contend with peer influences, social media, popular culture, raging hormones and other forces that are not always within our control. If we are concerned about what goes into the sex education curriculum in our children’s schools, we can get involved and ensure that we know what is going on. What we cannot afford to do is throw the baby out with the bathwater. The abuse of children, especially girls, continues unabated. We continue to see alarming rates of teenage pregnancy,” said the Founder of abovewhispers.com, an online community for women.
Government’s decision might raise HIV infection, STI index
As groups and individuals continue to urge the government to reconsider its stance, the Principal of Bright Rainbow High School, Lagos, Mr. Ajani Azeez, said failure to do so could lead to a spike in the rate of HIV infections, just as he insists that parents would fail in carrying out sex education. “The present moves of the government will surely increase the HIV and STD index if the decision is not reversed. It has been proven statistically that sex education in schools has reduced both adolescent pregnancy and HIV rates. Moreover, comprehensive sexual education classes have led to a reduction in misinformation and an increase in young people’s skills to make informed decisions about their health.
“Beyond its capacity to reduce the spread of HIV and STD, sex education reduces misinformation and increases young people’s skills in taking decisions related to their health, prevents unintended pregnancies and empowers young people against sexual violence. “Our parents will not be able to discharge this duty effectively because of the following reasons – parents are not always available at home because of work/job commitments. Over familiarity of children with their parents will also affect the effectiveness of sex education and information at home, even as sex education will also not be effective in homes because of the informal setting nature of our homes,” the educationist said. He also stressed that schools “remain the most formal setting where the teaching of sex education has been effective over the years with the following benefits-prevention of HIV/STDs; empowerment against sexual violence and prevention of unintended pregnancies.”
Azeez, therefore, appealed to the government to reconsider its position based on the fact that “no study to date has justified that sexual and reproductive health information and education in schools have resulted in increased sexual activity among teenagers/young people.”
Increased Exposure To Sexual Contents Requires Multi-pronged Approach
Agreeing with Azeez that the spread of HIV could be bolstered by the removal of sex education from the curriculum is educational consultant, Mrs. Toyin Sam-Emehelu, who also noted that parents and schools must rise to their primary responsibilities of having sex conversations with their children.
In a world brimming with pedophiles and a high rate of exposure to sexual content by children, I disagree with the assertion that pastors’ and imams’ teachings on sex are enough. And with the avalanche of uncensored prompts popping up on social media, mobile phones and many other devices, sex education has gone beyond ‘don’t touch me here,’ or ‘don’t watch pornography.’ It is now about telling children what to do when such obscure scenes show up while they are learning online. The responsibility of educating children about sex is now enormous and must involve many stakeholders.
“Apart from rapid HIV spread arising from uninformed sexual decisions, exposure to random sexual contents creates distractions and makes affected kids a lot more prone to pedophilia and sexual abuse. It leads to unhealthy sexual orientation in life and marriage, in addition to early pregnancy, as well as cutting short the potential of the girl-child. Ending sex education in basic education is simply disastrous,” said Sam-Emehelu, who is the Lead Consultant/Chief Executive Officer of Coreskills Transformational Academy Ltd.
While emphasising the need for age-appropriate sexual education, she said lots of improvements need to be effected even on the extant sex education curriculum. “However, the place of parenting cannot be overemphasised. I believe that in as much as parents are working for their children and trying to ensure that their basic needs are provided, it is essential that parents prioritise raising wholesome kids because, at the end of the day, money or material resources amassed cannot, and will never make up for raising children in the right way.”
Sam-Emehelu, leadership and educational consultant while appreciating the efforts of sex educators that are working in partnership with schools and families as counsellors, therapists, coaches and mentors to ensure that children are adequately informed about the dangers of being sexual victims said that all hands must be on deck to secure, safeguard and ensure that the next generation is well preserved because we need sane children to transform our economy, build a better nation and by extension, a better world for us all.
She reiterated the need for the government not to discountenance Family Life and HIV Education (FLHE) curriculum, which she said is essential and critical to protecting the next generation. So if the FLHE was put together to help in curbing the HIV/AIDS epidemic among adolescents and young people, all efforts dissipated along that line over the years would come to naught with the latest plan.
Many concerned educators worry about the scrapping of sex educationfrom the educational curriculum. We should be more concerned the content of the curriculum. What areas in the education curriculum are going to be taught young people and at what ages? Weshould be concerned about age appropriateness, knowing that educators should only discuss some sex topics with the appropriate age. We should be careful to detail men to teach the boys and women to teach the girls. In such a way, sexual decorum is maintained. And if you are interested, do Google my article titled: ‘African Anglican Communion and the gay controversy’ by Emeka Asinugo.