NGOs push promotion of sex education for juveniles

By Yang Zekun | China Daily | Updated: 2019-06-12 09:56
Schoolchildren identify "no go" zones of the human body as the AIDS Prevention Education Project for Chinese Youth visits a school in Linzhou, Henan province, last month. Provided To China Daily

Change of attitude

In January 2015, Li, the teacher in Henan, attended a training course organized by the AIDS Prevention Education Project for Chinese Youth. Initially, she felt embarrassed, but after a few days she developed a strong desire to learn as much as possible and pass that knowledge to her students.

"I thought they needed it. We missed a lot for many years because of ignorance," she said.

Yang Pai, a member of the project's experts' commission, said people usually think sex education only exists to solve problems, such as sexual assault on campus or STDs, but it really focuses on preventing those things.

According to Yang, many official bodies, such as public security organs, courts and public health authorities, can help to solve problems, but in reality, the causes are more pressing.

"They cannot prevent troubling social issues from appearing, but proper sex education can do it effectively," he said, adding that he hopes adults and people in positions of authority will change their attitudes toward sex education.

"Many adults think sex education is just about sexual behavior, but it is about far more than that."

Chengdu University's Hu said: "Sexual behavior is the most fundamental part of sex education, and the topics include psychology and sociology. Adults should not be so sensitive. We know that many teachers in their 20s feel awkward talking about sex-related topics with young students, but we've proved that if you engage students with an open attitude and well-prepared content, they will quickly calm down and absorb the information."

She said many parents are willing to change their opinion if their child will benefit, while others claim their child is under strict supervision and does not need such knowledge.

"But they often change their minds when we tell them their children will enter society alone and will have contact with people from a range of backgrounds. If we can discuss sex openly, we can avoid many obstacles and misunderstandings," Hu said.

Difficulties

In 2015, the Ministry of Education stipulated that students at junior high schools must have six hours of AIDS prevention classes every semester, while senior high school students should attend four 60-minute classes.

Despite that, many education authorities pay no attention to sex education, which results in schools under their jurisdiction becoming reluctant to organize such courses.

"We do not know whether the schools provide those classes or not, and the related authorities are unable to assess the results," said Zhang Yinjun, director of the AIDS Prevention Education Project for Chinese Youth.

In 2006, when the project was founded, she arranged funding and course curriculums, and trained teachers to communicate with students on a one-to-one basis, but for every 100 schools contacted, only one or two were willing to host the classes.

"The situation is gradually improving," Zhang Yinjun said, while conceding that a lack of support means some trained sex education teachers still have nowhere to hold classes.

To promote its work and make it more acceptable to conservative thinkers, the project often combines sex education with anti-drugs and anti-AIDS classes. It also uses traditional culture and psychological counseling to emphasize the benefits the classes provide.

The work is also hampered by a shortage of teachers. Although there is a set syllabus for sex education, teachers need to be trained to adapt to local cultures and ensure easy acceptance of the information they impart.

Last month, the project finished training its first batch of 50 teachers, who had attended eight weeklong training sessions since 2015.

"The cost of training each teacher is about 90,000 yuan ($13,000). We really treasure them, because they are just like seeds," Zhang Yinjun said. "There are more than 500,000 schools in China, and usually each one needs three to four trained teachers and assistants, so you can see there is a real shortage."

Until recently, Capital Normal University and Chengdu University provided about 200 teaching majors with minor courses in sex education every year, but CNU no longer offers the classes.

"The trained teachers still need to teach other courses such as math or Chinese at their schools," Zhang Meimei said. She added that if regular teaching students could receive some training related to sex education they could at least provide basic advice to students at the schools where they will work.

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