December 1st is World HIV/AIDS Day. I do not believe in declaring just one day in a year for a purpose, like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. However these days do hold some significance, because all the authorities (government and non-government) and people working for the cause get inspired to introspect, recount their activities of the year and plan the activities for the next year.
Communication for Development and Learning (CDL), a city-based NGO, recently conducted a series of workshops on HIV/AIDS and related issues, both to sensitise journalists and motivate them to write more on this issue. CDL works to enrich, empower and train people in all kinds of media (both employed as well as freelance journalists). HIV/AIDS was their focus this year. Topics covered by them included women, children and adolescent education.
For each of these programmes, specialists in the field like the doctors, representatives from the NGOs working for the cause, government representatives and media specialists were invited. The programme was therefore wholesome and informative.
The last of such programmes was a workshop on adolescent education (also known as ‘sex education’) held at the Vidyadeep College, Ulsoor (Halasuru) Road, on the 17th and 18th October 2008.
School curriculum does not touch HIV/AIDS
During the session, Basavaraja, Assistant Director of Department of State Education, Research and Training (DSERT) gave an informative account on the efforts that his department was making in association with NCERT in this direction as a part of the National Population Education Programme (NPEP). It was news to hear that the schools in India followed the NPEP guidelines even before HIV/AIDS were unheard of over here.
The topic of adolescent education is very sensitive and there have been varied opinions about what has to be included in this programme. DSERT had prepared comprehensive modules based on the guidelines laid down by UNICEF and had also supplied them to all schools. But the same were not being used because of strong objections raised at the meeting of academicians, NGOs, government officials, politicians, psychologists, doctors and other professionals.
Except Bangalore Medical Service Trust (BMST) and NIMHANS, none of the others supported the modules. Most of them felt that Adolescent Education Programme (AEP) did not need to be included in the curriculum, as students would learn things gradually in due course. Country-specific education was necessary and simply aping the West was not advisable, as what was relevant to that culture may not suit our culture, they felt.
Thus, as of now, DSERT conducts various extracurricular activities such as debates, quiz contests, group discussions, role play and case studies. These cover the various aspects of life skills like value clarification, combating stress and strain, problems faced by adolescents, smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, personality development, building self-esteem, concentration, respect to elders, communal harmony and so on.
There are strict guidelines against usage of the terms HIV/AIDS in the AEP. Only indirect references are made to the harmful effects of vices. Children between the age of 9 and 19 are covered under the AEP.
The modules for the ninth and tenth standard have been adopted, and it specifies that female teachers impart the modules to girls, while male teachers conduct the modules for boys.
‘What do children need?’
After this session, there was a very lively panel discussion on ‘Understanding adolescents and their needs and challenges faced by the adolescents’. The panel consisted of Manika Ghosh, psychologist and Professor of Maharani’s College, Suman Sudhindra, Principal of Meerambika High School, Chitra Rao, Coordinator, Developing Initiatives for Social and Human Action (DISHA), Radha, a parent and two college students.
About 22 per cent of the population are adolescents who are vulnerable mentally, physically and psychologically and hence we need to give proper attention to this segment of the population. The panel felt that adolescents should be approached with sensitivity and love. Their needs should be understood, for which the parents and teachers required counseling, in keeping with the fast-changing world.
The span of adolescence was increasing of late, as children as young as seven years were exposed to too many inputs, unlike in the past. The dangers of sexually transmitted diseases are many and thus children have to be cautioned against experimental and unsafe sex experiences that could expose them to those diseases.
But how to do that was the major issue. Parents felt it was the duty of the teachers to educate the children in this regard, while teachers feel it was the duty of the parents to keep their children informed and cautioned.
Principal of Meerambika School, Suman, said that her school counseled parents of girls studying in the sixth and seventh standards to train their children about ‘good-touch’ and ‘bad-touch’, respect their reservations in their relationships/interactions, make them responsible for small duties at home and in school and so on.
The two college students came out with what problems they faced during adolescence. They definitely get curious about sexual experiences, and the changes in their bodies and mind and try to find out more about these things from various sources, if not educated in the right manner, said Suman. They have terrible mood swings and feel irritated with their parents’ interference. They are more comfortable with peers. All they look forward to is understanding, emotional support and love from the parents instead of mere advices and dictums.
The teachers felt that adolescents are bound to make certain mistakes due to curiosity and eagerness to know things. Such mistakes should not be blown out of proportion either by the teachers or by the parents and should be viewed lightly with humour and concern.
Chitra Rao strongly recommended counseling for parents as the confusion of the adolescents starts at home and continues through media and friends. They lack proper direction, vision and goal. Proper career counseling is also very essential.
Manika Ghosh of Maharani’s College summed up the discussion and said how eroding family values were resulting in more and more problems. The presence of the older generation used to take care of emotional support for the other two generations. The difference in culture at home and outside causes confusion in the minds of the children. Children should not be considered as commodities that parents possess, and parents should only act as facilitators. She said that children should be taught the value of contentment at home.
On a lighter note, she said that what Aristotle had commented about adolescents in 350 B.C. is relevant even today which proves that adolescents are the same at all times. He recognised adolescence as a distinct phase of life and commented that ‘youth are heated by nature as drunken men by wine’. Socrates had, in fact said, ‘adolescents are inclined to contradict their parents and tyrannise their teachers.’
The value of Indian culture
On the second day, Dr Vinod Chebbi of Medisex Foundation addressed the participants on the needs of the adolescents. He said that sex education in schools was introduced way back in 1967 in the US after a study showed increasing incidence of sexually transmitted diseases among adolescents and teenage prostitution.
Sex education, there,
consisted of a study of anatomy, physiology and contraception. After 17 years, when a survey was conducted, it was shockingly learnt that there was an increase of 25 per cent in the number of children exposed to sex, as the emphasis of sex education was on the anatomy and not on safe sex.
Dr Chebbi said that India had very healthy methods of sex education traditionally. Our strong family ties ensure very secure lives for children and adolescents. The oldest texts on sexuality are available here and prostitution had been accepted as a part of life and respected in those ages. Young girls of marriageable age were trained in the art of sex-making. Women were highly respected in the society.
All this changed somewhere in between and today we are at a stage when we are to be told about adolescent education. Besides, parents do not recognise the creative skills of their children or their aptitude and force them into courses which they feel will fetch them lucrative jobs. Such an attitude is distancing the children from the parents more and more. How can such parents freely discuss issues of sexuality with the adolescents, who have pent up anger against them?
A study conducted by the students revealed that as of now, parents are very hesitant to discuss matters of sexuality with adolescents. Definitely there is a need for adolescent education to be included in the curriculum to be taught by the science or physical education teachers, at least for a period of six months. Every school should have trained counselors for the students to frankly discuss their problems.
On the whole, the workshop was an eye-opener for the parents, teachers and authorities. The churning has begun and the results will be positive. ⊕