By Charumati Haran:
The much-awaited report of the Justice Verma Commission was the result of a herculean effort: 80, 000 responses considered for a final 600 page report, within 29 days. Many experts have described it as a ‘path breaking’ and ‘progressive’ report, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. While many excellent recommendations have been made, let us reflect on the one that will undoubtedly have the biggest impact on the future generations: that sex education should be made an integral part of school curriculum. Chapter 14 of the Verma report deals with this and it is titled “Education and perception reform”. It brought out results from many studies and surveys under the following heads:
“Building an alternative framework”
“Sex education” and “Problems with existing system”
“Structural factors” and “Recommendations”
Every one of these sub topics is discussed very comprehensively: how the patriarchy present in society takes root in children’s mind at a very early age, how existing social structures make it difficult to include sex education in the curriculum, how difficult it is to find competent teachers and so on. The report has thoroughly analyzed the social-economic difficulties of providing appropriate sex education to children. It stressed how there was a need to prepare children for the transition from childhood to adulthood. It also stressed on the need for dispensing correct knowledge with respect to sexuality and sexual choices without enforcing gender stereotypes.
In a nutshell, the report said sex education should be delivered by well-trained and competent teachers and must involve the participation of counsellor who are trained in the field of child psychology. It has also recommended activities such as cooking and cleaning for boys to break stereotypes of gender roles in their minds. It even recommended that states collaborate with LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) activists to create awareness and understanding in students. These are only some of the many recommendations made by the committee, but they are, in my opinion, among the most progressive.
This report is one of the best works in recent times on the issue of sex education. A taboo topic that has been thoroughly explored by experts can become the basis for some excellent reforms. It is a very timely report considering not only the Delhi gangrape case, but also the growing influence of the media in society. There is so much exposure that children these days are vastly better informed about the birds and bees than their parents were at the same age. But the downside is that there are so many conflicting views out there, and depending on what source a child has access to, his or her knowledge may still be incomplete. The existing curriculum is outdated and incapable of handling such a situation.
However, there are some important things to keep in mind. As these are only proposals, if the government takes no action, the great ideas will remain confined to paper. How will this issue be seriously discussed in Parliament where there are politicians who have shamed us again and again with their corruption? Second, how will all schools afford hiring a good counsellor? There are so many problems in enforcing RTE and nursery admission guidelines that it makes one wonder how such sweeping recommendations could be implemented. Third, exactly how will it be integrated in the academic curriculum? Through which ages should it be implemented? Will it be tested or not? How will the learning at school be reinforced by what a child sees at home or in his local community? How will this topic be made religion-neutral? And most importantly, how will such a topic be accepted in the areas where Khap Panchayats still draw a distinction between “India” and “Bharat”?
We must create an environment where children can always have someone they trust to ask for advice – even if it’s an anonymous helpline. Teachers and parents need to be patient and sensible when addressing the questions of their children. They need to understand where a child’s information comes from: peers, seniors, movies and the internet. Ideas that get imprinted early on will be difficult to erase. At a young age, when the gender-roles in society are getting entrenched in a young child’s mind, sex education is the first step we can take towards ensuring equality for all.