Lacking in crisis awareness, children and teens trust easily, a secondary school assistant principal, who only wanted to be known as Linda, said.
Overwhelmed with guilt, victims would usually stay silent feeling like they have done wrong and will be punished for seeking help, she added.
An 18-year-old female student recently shared nude photos of herself with an “online partner”, Linda shared, and when they broke up, the girl deleted her social media account thinking that was the end of it.
In revenge, her ex-partner created a chat group with all the boys in the school and shared the photos.
“The victim did not seek help until a concerned friend came to me.
“When they know they can seek help and not be blamed or punished, they will cooperate with the teachers and parents,” she said.
Reproductive and social health education (Peers), which focuses on psychosocial competence and includes sexual knowledge from the biological, sociocultural, psychological and spiritual aspects towards the practice of healthy behaviour, is taught at primary and secondary schools for 30 minutes a week, with plans to increase the time slot.
Many teachers feel helpless when handling such matters although Linda’s school has its own sex education module that is taught as part of character-building.
For 40 minutes a week, the students will be exposed to topics about sex and reproductive health via the lessons.
“We use case studies in the lessons and we emphasise respecting the opposite gender and teach students to protect themselves and be kind to their bodies,” she said.
While the school does its best to educate, some parents have complained that the school is “teaching too much”.
“A while ago, we invited a sex education expert to speak to students and received an email from a parent condemning us for ‘teaching students things they should not be learning’,” she lamented.
Linda, who has been teaching for 25 years, said it is getting trickier to deal with teens as their character has changed.
“In the past, students with problems would be involved in quarrels, fights or gangs. Now, you don’t know what they are up to. Signs of trouble are not obvious anymore.
“Students know what they should or shouldn’t do, but more often than not, they lack self-control and the ability to make informed decisions,” she said.
But teachers, said multigenerational family play therapist Christine Teoh, can only teach from the textbooks according to the modules.
“Children learn through role-modelling so parents’ perception and reception towards sexuality set a baseline.
“With a good baseline, children will have a reference point. For example, how their parents make friends through socialising and how they keep personal boundaries will set the tone for their children’s friendships,” she said.
Teachers can share factual information about sex and reproductive health but parents must take it from there because every family has its own set of values, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Centre for Occupational Therapy Studies and Faculty of Health Sciences head Assoc Prof Dr Padma A. Rahman said.
“Values are very personal. Parents should think about the family’s religious and cultural beliefs and educate their children based on that.
“Knowledge should be used to empower as well as to set boundaries,” she said.
She suggested that schools involve parents in sex education. For example, if the school were to invite a special speaker to talk about the topic, parents can be invited to attend or the session can be shared online so that they know what is being taught in schools.Most teachers, she said, are not properly trained and would just breeze through the topics as part of their KPI.
Due to lack of training and sensitivity of the topic, teachers may have their own personal biases and impart their own values in delivering the lesson. Some may even skip parts they disagree with, Padma said.
“When my daughter was five, she was told off by her kindergarten teacher for using the word ‘vagina’. She was warned never to use the ‘v word’ again,” Padma shared.International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) Faculty of Nursing head Assistant Prof Dr Siti Hazariah Abdul Hamid suggested that teachers share information of what children learn from Peers with parents.
“This can be in the form of worksheets so that both parties can complement each other’s efforts. There will be continuity of information taught in school and at home,” she said, adding that parents should communicate with teachers about the content of what is taught in classrooms.
The Federation of Reproductive Health Associations, Malaysia, is looking to work with schools, government agencies and other bodies to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights, its spokesperson said.
The response, he said, was good when a one-day sexuality education training with 80 teachers was conducted in 2019.
“Our modules are practical and we hope to bring it to more schools,” he said.