At school where we can learn all about the planet, the solar system and our economy, why can't we learn about our own bodies?
A policy implicitly adopted by society is that there are certain things in life that don't need to be taught to kids, they will pick it up somewhere along the way. But how? While curious teenage minds may pick up on where babies come from, information gathered from friends who are just as young through gossip or incognito mode internet searches isn't going to give kids straight facts or present information in an ethical, scientific and practical manner.
But that's exactly what young people need. When going through puberty with hormones raging, minds wondering with questions aplenty, why can't our educational institutes step in and tell kids what they really need to know?
The contents of comprehensive sex education extend beyond teaching safe reproductive choices and diseases that could possibly spread from sexual activity (although these are important too). Kids are also taught how their bodies function, puberty and menstruation and a crucial topic called consent. Sex ed teaches students how to recognise abuse. It builds respect for their own and others' bodies and talks about boundaries and emotional well-being. In some platforms, it even includes conversations about personal skills and communication, gender roles and portrayal of sex and gender in the media.
These all come together to give teenagers an understanding of what constitutes healthy and normal behaviour and what does not. It teaches them what natural reactions from their bodies are in certain situations and when to panic and call a doctor. It allows them to spot early signs of anyone trying to violate them. It also prevents their misinformed selves from continuing to believe in archaic myths rather than scientific facts about their bodies. Do we really want kids to believe that a girl cooking during her period will make the food inedible? So when a poorly informed family member tells them so, how are they supposed to know better if not for sex ed?
It is true some schools have health classes and some students opt to take Biology when they reach senior grades but this not only doesn't include all students, but schools are often guilty of glossing over topics which teachers consider too "sensitive" for class. Parental pressure is another issue. It is often parents that react strongly when schools do make an effort to teach sex ed and it is often from their pressure that schools are forced to abandon the effort. But where does this tug of war between offending morality and refusing to take responsibility, leave the youth?
At a time when the news is flooded daily with stories of sexual abuse and harassment, one must wonder why no one in society took the responsibility of teaching the youth when and how it is okay to approach a person, when one must stop pursuing someone and which type of behaviour isn't "determined" or "bold" but simply criminal.
One might argue that children should simply rely on the internet to learn about these things and schools can stick to teaching math, science and history. However, according to UNICEF, only 5 percent of Bangladeshi youth below the age of 15 regularly use the internet. And when was unsupervised and unfiltered online content ever a safe space for anyone?
According to WHO, Bangladesh also has a severe shortage and maldistribution of health care workers. Not all youth have access to gynaecologists and even when they do, the doctors often mirror the conservative attitude of schools and accessing information about one's own body becomes quite a challenge.
One might also argue that sex ed should be taught at home by parents according to the family's own values. Parents have the scope of teaching sex ed but do they? In a conservative society where both the literacy level and traditional mindedness of parents lie on a broad spectrum, this is almost as good as wishing kids automatically learn things without being taught. Mature people are also moving towards finding a partner from adult dating sites and overall it is their own choice.
And it is this reckless and naïve belief of both academia and families that kids should magically be able to behave properly without any learning that ultimately comes back and hurts the very kids they are trying to protect by shielding from "immoral" education.
Ignorance isn't education. Refusing to acknowledge reality isn't education. When schools take on the responsibility of the education of a child, they owe it to them to teach them to protect themselves. As a society we must move beyond our taboos and teach school children more than just the fact that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.
1. UNICEF (2017). THE STATE OF THE WORLD'S CHILDREN 2017: Children in a Digital World (Rep.)
2. WHO (April 2012). Global Health Workforce Alliance: Bangladesh.
Mrittika Anan Rahman is a daydreamer trying hard not to run into things while walking. Find her at firstname.lastname@example.org