BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Observer senior reporter email@example.com
EDUCATION Minister Ronald 'Ronnie' Thwaites has said at least two persons involved in the drafting of the controversial Health and Family Life Education Programme (HFLEP) curriculum, recently pulled from local high schools because of its graphic sexual content, "had a particular agenda and were able to embed it in the curriculum".
In mid-September, the curriculum which, among other things, required grades seven to nine students to be quizzed on whether they had ever been involved in homosexual and heterosexual sex, created a firestorm with parents and teachers questioning the process by which the Ministry of Education approves its teaching guides.
The education minister subsequently "instructed that the material be withdrawn and rewritten, and then redistributed so as to prevent disruption of the Health and Family Life Education instruction".
Last week, Thwaites, responding to questions from Opposition spokesperson on education Marisa Dalrymple-Phillibert, told Parliament that "it appears that there were two persons, at least, involved in the process who had a particular agenda in respect of this particular subset of the curriculum, and they were able to embed it in the curriculum and there was not sufficient review to extirpate it before publication".
The education minister was asked whether there was any particular reason why the process for the approval of curricula was not followed, and whether the then-chief education officer (CEO) — now permanent secretary — approved the document.
Thwaites responded that "on the basis of the investigations and the information given (to him), the person who served as CEO then did not know of the inappropriate curriculum..."
Dalrymple, on Tuesday, wanted to know the steps taken by the ministry to ensure that material of this nature would "not slip through the cracks again".
Said Thwaites, "my own view is that the very involved process of approval is less protective than we actually need it to be and, perhaps, what is required is a more straightforward and direct reference to the highest policymaking bodies of the Ministry of Education".
Thwaites said his ministry had upped the game regarding the revision of this aspect of the curriculum, with members of the review group being brought in from a wide cross section of national groups, including the church.
Thwaites also disclosed the fates of the technocrats found to have been responsible for including the offensive content in the guide.
"In relation to those who investigations so far determine played an untoward part in the writing of this, one such person is no longer in the service of the ministry, and the other person will be subject to the appropriate disciplinary action that the public service provides," the education minister said to applause from parliamentarians.
Opposition leader Andrew Holness, who served as Education Minister from 2007 to 2012, commented on the matter amidst taunts of "ah you leggo di book, Andrew, ah you leggo di book".
Ignoring the inferences, Holness said he wanted to make it clear that persons at the executive and policy levels during his time at the helm of the ministry never saw the curriculum. Furthermore, he pointed out that during his tenure a policy directive had been given in respect of such issues and a mechanism set up to review the material.
Thwaites on Tuesday steered clear of naming names.
"No minister of education of whatever political stripe would have knowingly allowed material as obnoxious as that contained in the HFLE curriculum to have been published, and it does appear that there were previous instances, and there were warnings, and it was a clear intention of some who have very clear predispositions regarding sexual conduct... who got away on this one," Reverend Thwaites said, pointing out that there was evidence of similar instances which his predecessor had had to deal with.
"The important thing now is that we make it quite clear to this Parliament, to those who serve as administrators and public officials, and to the nation as a whole that the primary responsibility for introducing children to sexual knowledge and responsibility lies with the parents," he noted.
"Schools have a role to play and the principle that must, at all times, be respected is that the ministry promotes sexually responsible behaviour in the context of a faithful union between a man and a woman, while offering respect and compassion to those who adopt a different lifestyle," he added to further applause from his colleagues.
In the meantime, the minister told the House that the curriculum in question has not been fully distributed to schools. However, sections of the reviewed text were prepared and used in a teachers' workshop during August 2011and would have been distributed to some teachers then.
"The records show that 6,000 copies were printed and 1,368 copies were issued to schools before it was withdrawn. These copies have been withdrawn from schools," Reverend Thwaites told the House.
The Process for Approval of Curricula
a) The policy directorate grants approval for the development/revision of a curriculum in response to societal needs and/or new policy direction.
b) The draft curriculum is developed by the process owner along with selected technical experts internally and externally of the Ministry of Education through consultation with stakeholders (civic groups, teachers, principals, students, parents, and others).
c) The curriculum is piloted for feedback and adjustments
d) The first draft of the curriculum is submitted to the Core Curriculum Unit for review.
e) The Core Curriculum Unit reviews the curriculum and makes recommendation for approval of the final draft document to the Chief Education Officer through the Deputy Chief Education Officer, Curriculum and Support Services.
f) The Deputy Chief Education Officer, Curriculum and Support Services recommends the approval of the final draft curriculum to the Chief Education Officer.
g) The Chief Education Officer with support from the technical team representing the process owners presents the final draft document to the Executive Management Meeting, chaired by the Permanent Secretary and the Senior Policy Making Group, chaired by the Honourable Minister of Education.
h) The Minister of Education gives final approval of the draft curriculum and the policy unit documents the approval.
i) The process owners with the responsibility for the draft curriculum receives approval from the Chief Education Officer to implement the new curriculum in schools.
j) The process is documented every step of the way, the record is kept on an official file for future reference.