At the launch of the first statewide “suicide prevention programme”, organised Wednesday by the state education department to address the rise in the number of suicides among students, the expert panel ended up fielding more questions on the sexual issues faced by schoolchildren than their suicidal tendencies. The expert panel addressed the programme via satellite network which aimed at covering as many government schools across the state as possible. The panel comprised psychologists Dr Nischal Bhatt and Dr Kiran Shinglot, IPS officer Hasmukh Patel, who is director of Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) Ahmedabad, and Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board (GSHSEB) deputy chairman R R Thakkar.
Incidentally, sex education has been an uncomfortable subject for Gujarat which shunned the first attempt at formalising it in 2009, when the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) launched an adult education programme in the country. The booklets that were prepared and distributed in schools were withdrawn and there was a virtual ban on such education in government schools. While private schools, prodded by NGOs, invariably get to introduce sex education as part of their teaching module, in government schools it largely remains a no-go zone, primarily because teachers find it “uncomfortable”.
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The programme, after the keynote address by state Education Minister Bhupendr-asinh Chudasama, followed by individual addresses by the psychologists, was thrown open for questions from the audience — teachers and Class VI students and upwards. The panel was flooded with queries on students attaining “akaal pukhtvay” (premature puberty), “prem prasang” (courtships) and “jatiya shikshan” (sex education) during the four-hour long session broadcast live to schools through Bhaskarach-arya Institute for Space Applications and Geo-informatics’s channel “Vande Gujarat 1”.
During the open house, questions were taken directly on phone. A teacher from Porbandar asked, “In certain areas of Gujarat, students attain puberty at an early age, which often leads to crime and sexual abuse. How should we deal with such cases?” The panel said that it felt the need for sex education, adding that it should be taken up in a pro-active manner. “Teachers need to be pro-active and accept the fact that students these days attain puberty at an early age. So, let us inform children beforehand. We need to tell students about the ‘good and bad touch’. Contrary to this, even the basics of sex education — human reproduction — is either usually skipped by teachers in a class or they simply ask students to study it on their own,” said Dr Nischal Bhatt.
Citing children sexual abuse cases, Hasmukh Patel said, “As per a survey, 33 per cent students are subjected to sexual abuse. We have also heard about cases of teachers raping their students. So, we need to have a regular counselling programme for students, teachers and parents.” A teacher from Bardoli raised a concern over “increasing trend of courtships” and “love affairs” by students which also involve physical relationships and sometimes “lead students to commit suicide”. Someone from Palanpur sought guidance on how to deal with cases where parents ignore teacher’s complaints pertaining to addiction and even crime. Teachers were asked to approach police in such cases.
The psychologists reiterated the need for sex education in schools. “Statistics have revealed that less than 1 per cent of these adolescent infatuation cases are converted into marriage. Apart from sex education, stress on value education, ‘love and limit concept’ should be taught,” said Dr Bhatt. A teacher from the tribal belt of Dahod raised concern over students getting their younger siblings to schools as their parents work for daily wage. “If we start encouraging these students, this will also address the dropout problem in government schools, especially in the tribal areas,” GSHSEB deputy director R R Thakkar said. There were also questions related to stress and anxiety raised by teachers from districts like Mehsana, Kheda, Porbandar Anand and Wankaner. The second such session is scheduled on October 13.