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Ministry admits there is ‘room for improvement’ in sex ed

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There is ‘room for improvement’ in the sex education given in state schools, the education ministry admitted on Tuesday following a call for the enrichment of such modules by parents’ and teachers’ associations.

Head of the Pancyprian Federation of Parents’ Associations Charalambos Dionysiou said sex education is important for the prevention of sexual violence and recommended lessons should begin as early as nursery school. The need to upgrade sex ed lessons in public schools was also highlighted by teaching unions Oelmek and Poed.

“The [education] ministry clearly knows what its shortcomings are. We recognise that there is still room for improvement,” a ministry official involved in sexual education told the Cyprus Mail.

Despite recent actions taken by the education ministry to teach children about sex related topics, the gaps in the education system were highlighted in a recent house human rights committee with MPs asking for mandatory sex education lessons in all grades.

“I noticed a lot of improvement in recent years regarding the sex education of public-school children,” the ministry source said.

However, it appears instruction of the specific subject depends on the zeal of each teacher.

Since 2011, primary school children are offered a lesson on health education which includes sex ed modules as well as a specific section on how to identify sexual abuse.

“The lesson is taught for two hours every two weeks to second, third, fifth and sixth grade children,” the official added. It was described as “holistic sex education” by the ministry as it touches upon a variety of issues.

Another obligatory course is provided to children in gymnasiums as part of home economics, while no obligatory lesson is given in lyceum.

“It is not just about having a specific lesson. Teachers should also adopt an approach to pass certain values and knowledge to the children they have under their care,” the ministry source added.

The official said “a lot of” teachers have been trained on how to approach sex education.

The education ministry issued a guide for teachers to help them identify suspect sexual harassment and abuse cases in their classrooms and laid down the protocols to be followed to report them to the social welfare services.

Primary teachers’ union Poed vice president Apostolos Skouroupatis said “lessons must be enriched to develop the role of education on the prevention of sexual harassment cases.”

In addition to saying lessons should begin in nursery schools, Dionysiou said teaching hours for sex education must be increased.

“Children must learn from a young age their body parts and acceptable sexual behaviours,” Dionysiou told the Cyprus Mail.

In 2017, the attorney general had clarified that sex education is the right of every child, and the obligation of the education ministry to provide, after parents attempted to forbid their children from participating in such courses.

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