By Liew Hanqing
THE Ministry of Education (MOE) wants greater transparency from schools that employ external vendors to provide enrichment programmes on sexuality education.
Schools that engage any of the six approved external vendors to deliver programmes - which complement the MOE's core sexuality education curricula - will be required to publish information about the programmes on their websites, a ministry spokesman told The Straits Times.
This will give parents a chance to assess for themselves the quality and content of the programmes and decide whether they want their children to attend them.
The changes address concerns raised by parents last year, after it emerged that a programme run by the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) had breached MOE guidelines.
Parents had complained then that they had been kept in the dark over the content of such programmes; several also said they did not know they could pull their children out of such classes.
Yesterday, the ministry also said that though four of the six approved vendors are linked to Christian organisations, 'external vendors affiliated to religious groups are reminded not to proselytise or make reference to their religions during activities'.
Periodic audits would be conducted in schools to ensure compliance, its spokesman said.
The ministry also said the six vendors were selected because they shared its philosophy on sexuality education, had a good track record in providing sexuality-related programmes for children and young people, and had trainers with good credentials, among other things.
MOE's philosophy on sexuality education is that it does not encourage nor promote masturbation, abortion and oral and anal sex.
Its sexuality education programme does not condone promiscuity and sexual experimentation by teenagers, or promote homosexuality, but promotes abstinence and teaches teenagers how to say no to sex.
However, contraception is taught in schools to protect young people against diseases and unwanted pregnancies.
When approached yesterday about their programme content, only one of the six vendors was willing to comment.
Eka Training Group said it advocated abstinence from premarital sex.
The company takes a 'pro-life' stance on abortion, and believes education on contraception is essential, its director Ruben Wen said.
He added that while its programme would not discuss masturbation or homosexuality, the company believed 'non-excessive' masturbation was harmless, and added that it was neutral towards homosexuality.
The other MOE-approved vendors - Cornerstone Community Services Centre, Fei Yue Community Services, High Achievers Training Consultancy, Touch Youth and Focus on the Family Singapore - either would not say what their stands on the issues were, or did not respond to queries.
Responses from educators and parents to sexuality programmes provided by external vendors were mixed.
Mrs Mary Bay-Chua, principal of Bartley Secondary School, said she felt external programmes for sexuality education would be useful only if they added value to the existing MOE sexuality education curricula.
She said: 'I wouldn't engage a vendor just for the sake of doing it; I would consider whether it would help the school inculcate the right values; whether the programmes have added impact.'
However, Mrs Julia Woo, principal of Woodlands Secondary School, said she would consider running such a programme if it could help 'broaden students' perspectives'.
Mr Alfred Tan, executive director of the Singapore Children's Society, acknowledged that external vendors could provide a wider range of programmes, but stressed that 'at the end of the day, parents should play a key role in the sexuality education of their children'.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.