THE graphic sexual content of a Health and Family Life Education Programme (HFLEP) curriculum being used in local high schools has prompted Education Minister Rev Ronald Thwaites to impose an immediate ban on its use, pending a review.
The curriculum, which among other things seeks to determine whether grade seven to nine students have ever been involved in homosexual and heterosexual sex, disturbed many parents and teachers and brought into question the process under which curricula are approved by the Ministry of Education.
A local television report Thursday showed that the HFLEP included a unit on human sexuality that introduced children to different types of sexual orientation.
The objective of the unit, the curriculum said, is to get children to be more tolerant of others around them who are different.
Included in the unit are questions such as: "have you ever had anal sex?"; "have you ever used a condom having anal sex?" and "how many sexual partners have you had?"; "do you know yout HIV status?"; "do you know the HIV status of your partners?"; and "if you have never slept with a member of your own sex, is it possible that you might be gay if you tried it?"
Most of the parents interviewed for the TV report thought the questions were inappropriate for children, but at least two said they did not have a problem with them.
The report also suggested that teachers ask children which body part gave them the most pleasure and to sing a song about it.
One exercise suggested that students should close their eyes and imagine themselves in a world where only they are straight but everyone else is gay.
In a news release yesterday, Thwaites "instructed that the material be withdrawn and rewritten and then redistributed so as to prevent disruption of the Health and Family Life Education instruction."
The minister said the controversial section was only brought to his attention on Wednesday. "I consider sections of the material inappropriate for any age, and certainly for the grade seven and eight students for which it was designed," he said in the release.
Thwaites said his ministry "espouses family life values based on Christian principles of sexual morality as well as compassion and tolerance for all persons".
The curriculum was developed for Caribbean schools under the auspices of a number of local and international bodies, including the United Nations Children's Fund and the Ministry of Health.
Commenting on the curriculum, principal of St Andrew High School Sharon Reid said her school does not use the curriculum in its entirety, but incorporates parts of it into the school's own curriculum.
"It's quite unfortunate that this has happened," she said, adding that she needed more information about the offending sections.
Meanwhile, principal or Edith Dalton James High, Ray Howell, explained that the ministry has a committee that reviews curricula for approval. "I think we have dropped [the ball] as a ministry and someone should take responsible for what has happened," he said.
It's not the first time in recent years that material being used in local schools has resulted in controversy and required the intervention of an education minister.
In 2007, then minister Andrew Holness was forced to say publicly that book CSEC Home Economics and Beyond was not endorsed by the ministry, after a section suggested that there had been a "broadening of the traditional definitions of a family", and that "when two women or two men live together in a relationship as lesbians or gays, they may be considered a family".
Holness said then that the ministry "does not endorse or support the teaching of homosexual relationships as the accepted standard of family. We do not teach it and we do not recommend it," he said.