By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
As it reviews the K to 12 Program, the Department of Education (DepEd) is taking into consideration the possibility of including a separate subject on sex education in the basic education curriculum in an effort to curb the rising cases of early pregnancy in the country.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones, in an interview after the recently-held “Kapit-kamay: Empowering the Youth to Make Informed Choices” summit, expressed openness to include a separate subject that will focus on reproductive health and other related topics to sex education.
“We are now into curriculum change and that can be considered especially in junior and senior high school,” Briones said. She noted that the subject will be more appropriate for the learners in high school since the prevalence of early pregnancy “spikes in this age” bracket. “Pwede na siguro i-consider na natin yun sa curriculum kasi right now, naka-embed [ang sex education] sa subjects,” she added.
Aside from overhauling the curriculum, Briones underscored the need to equip not just the learners but the teachers, themselves. “We really need to enrich and further capacitate our teachers because we have some [teachers] who are not comfortable talking about the topic,” she said. “If you want to manage early pregnancy, you have to go into details and a good number of teachers will be hesitant to go into details.”
Briones also noted that some teachers admitted that they find it “uncomfortable” to discuss among learners topics that fall under sex education. “When they have to discuss various options available to the teenager, they would be uncomfortable about it because some of them report that the children know more than they do,” she added.
Despite challenges in curriculum and medium of instruction, Briones underscored the need for strengthened efforts to instill among learners the importance of reproductive health and making informed choices – among others. “We have to attend to this as well – not just the learners but the teachers as well,” she added.
When it comes to materials related to sex education and reproductive health, Briones expressed optimism that other related agencies and social civil organizations would be able to extend assistance. She also noted that special programs and projects such as national summits on early pregnancy and other related issues will also help the youth to make informed choices. “We have to do more because the numbers are showing that we might have a problem in the near future with our burgeoning population,” she ended.
In 2018, the DepEd issued the Policy Guidelines on the Implementation of the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) to help curb the rising incidences of early pregnancy, sexual violence, and human-immunodeficiency virus (HIV) among young Filipinos.
Also known as DepEd Order No. 31, series 2018 (DO 31), the policy aims to “enhance the holistic wellness of the Filipino adolescents and effectively address their needs for health and protection through education by ensuring that they are equipped with comprehensive information and appropriate life skills that can advance gender equality and empowerment, clarify their values and attitude, and reduce risks related to poor health outcomes – thereby enabling them to achieve their full potential.”
Recognizing the roles and responsibilities of the school system to provide learners their right to good health, the policy shall establish a common understanding of CSE key concepts and messages and ensure a clear implementation of CSE protocols in all public and private elementary, junior and senior high schools, learning centers for Special Education (SPED) and Alternative Learning System (ALS), and laboratory schools of state and local universities and colleges (SUCs/LUCs).
Indigenous learning systems (ILSs) and Madrasah Education Program (MEP) shall integrate the CSE standards, core topics, core values, and core life skills in subjects like Music, Arts, Physical Education and Health (MAPEH); Science; Edukasyon sa Pagpapakatao (ESP); Araling Panlipunan; and Personality Development.
A curriculum-based process of teaching and learning, DepEd said that the CSE is anchored on “cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality that is scientific, age- and developmentally appropriate, culturally and gender-responsive, and with rights-based approach.” Likewise, its implementation shall involve parents-teachers-community associations, school officials, civil society organizations, and other interest groups that ensure cultural acceptability, efficiency, and appropriateness of key concepts and messages.
DepEd said that the CSE will help learners “develop critical thinking in relation to risky behaviors and empower them to realize their health, well-being, and dignity.” It is also expected to contribute to better learning outcomes, reduced dropout rate, increased completion rate, and improved quality of learning as the CSE will “equip learners with knowledge, skills, attitude, and values.”