Breaking the Cycle of Poverty by Providing Better Sex Ed in Schools

The debate around school curriculum is getting hot as the cultural norms clash with the potential of students getting stuck in a poverty cycle

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Although sex ed isn’t a taboo topic worldwide anymore, inhabitants of Japan have struggled to talk about it even with their own children. There are several reasons for such tense reactions, and one of the biggest concerns is the age of children, who currently get sex education in junior high schools.

It is said that the best period for sex education is before students become sexually active. But children in Japan are listening about birth control, abortion, and sexually transmitted diseases at the third-year of public junior high school. Most parents aren’t ready to talk about sex with their young kids and that’s understandable.

First of all, most of the related terms are medical and definitely hard to process for third-year students. Secondly, it’s hard for parents and teachers to explain them in simple words. These discussions tend to be an unpleasant experience both for parents and children in most cases.

Teenage Pregnancies and the Cycle of Poverty

The issue of sex education underlines a much greater problem: female student tend to drop out of schools which in a long run puts them in a risk group of those who potentially may get stuck in the cycle of poverty due to lack of education which could lend them a well-paid job. The head of the non-profit organization Kids’ Door, Yumiko Watanabe, said: “Those who haven’t graduated from high school are highly likely to end up raising a child in poverty if they become single mothers.” It is not good news for the country that is still struggling with raising female employment rates.

The Asahi Simbun reported that the first-ever research on the correlation between teenage pregnancies and cases of dropping out found out that in 2015-2016 there were 2098 registered cases of teenage pregnancies and childbirth in public schools. As the result, the total of 371 full-time students and 271 of part-time students have left their school education unfinished. That is about 30% of the total number of known pregnancies. And while there were no cases where students would have been expelled as a punishment measure, it became clear that at least 32 of them were advised to drop out by the schools.

Such advice was given based on concerns about schools not being able to ensure pregnant students’ health and safety at the premises. However, an official from the Ministry of Education expresses concerns about schools giving such advice and stated that schools should have more consideration for students, especially when a lot of them expresses willingness to continue their education.

In this light, the question of sex education at schools gains even more importance for both female and male students.

The Decisions of the Metropolitan Education Board

The metropolitan education board concluded that such terms as “intercourse”, “contraception” or “abortion” are inappropriate for third-year students. The ministry guidelines for health and physical education condemns the use of these words in front of junior high school students although they have sex education.

A lot of dust has risen after the survey on sexual life among pupils at a public junior high school in Adachi Ward that was conducted on March 5th: 44% of student believe it is okay for high-schoolers to start having sex. Almost 50% of teachers at public junior high schools in Tokyo also think that the Education Ministry’s curriculum guidelines do not face the needs. Even though these topics aren’t included in the official guidelines, about 10% of teachers already discuss or plan to discuss abortion and birth control in junior high schools.

Since content introduced beyond Ministry guidelines can be included in lessons only if parents or guardians agree to it, the Metropolitan Board of Education instructed the Adachi Ward Board of Education to stop giving lessons with that kind of inappropriate content.

Toshiaki Koga, a member of the Metropolitan Board of Education, who also found this lesson out of the line but also thinks that a discussion about sexually transmitted diseases is permissible, said: Topics like sexual intercourse and birth control are inappropriate for junior high school students. It is our role to monitor administrative branches.

Later, a private group of teachers, the Council for Education and Study on Human Sexuality, accused Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly officials and Toshiaki Koga of “trying to suppress sex education that is conducted from a human rights viewpoint.”

On the other hand, some people found the lectures in Adachi ward totally appropriate. For example, professor Noriko Hashimoto thinks that the global standard of sex education in junior high school is a good practice.

“It is all the more meaningful for junior high school students to be equipped with accurate knowledge about birth control because they are in a developmental stage before they are sexually active,” professor Hashimoto said.  

“The education ministry should revise the curriculum guidelines so that teachers can discuss sexuality and reproduction from both scientific and human rights perspectives without drawing criticism from the outside.” professor at Kagawa Nutrition University added.

The Adachi City Board of Education said that there is zero inappropriate content in lectures and that they are trying to help students avoid STD’s and pregnancies, not to encourage the sexual activity of young students.

The goal isn’t to scare the students but to teach them about safety.

What Do the Studies Find?

There is a study that confirms that a stronger approach to sex ed is necessary. One of the studies investigated how much junior high school students know about sexuality. 9492 (86.2 %) students (age 12-13 and 14-15 years) returned questionnaires. For sex education, the average of only 9.19 hours of classes was allocated over all three grades. The average correct response rate was meager. Girls answered correctly in 39.4 % of cases, and boys in 34.5 %. A lot of students answered “I don’t know” which is also deemed to be the wrong answers. Almost half of the boys said that they don’t have questions about sex and that they don’t want to consult someone.

On the other hand, another study included parents which think that school is a more appropriate place for sex education than home, so they expect teachers to inform their children about the matter. Unfortunately, only 60.3 % of parents returned the questionnaires.

This study, intended to examine the practice of sex education, also included principals. 1703 principals of 5158 schools returned blank questionnaires.

Importance of sex education

Since teen pregnancies are often and the number of students and young people with sexually transmitted diseases in Japan increased in the last few years, the importance of sex education rises.

The goal isn’t to scare the students but to teach them about safety. That way, students can protect themselves from STD’s and unwanted pregnancies. Also, they can find out a lot about the ways to terminate the pregnancy. But that information should be delivered the right way in accordance with their age.

Today’s “otsumami” – a bite size snack:

Finding a proper way to implement sex ed into a school system is a big task and Japan is attempting to handle it.

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