#SOUTHAFRICA: Children as young as nine years old will learn about masturbation when new life orientation textbooks are rolled out next year.
The textbooks have been overhauled to be more relevant for pupils, and the department of basic education hired celebrity sex therapist Dr Marlene Wasserman (Dr Eve) to help develop a “cutting edge” life orientation curriculum for grades 4 to 12. Wasserman was among about 100 experts and writers commissioned by the department.
Each lesson, according to Wasserman, will begin with a yoga pose and a “mindfulness exercise”, and the subject for the day could be on consent, which is a big part of the curriculum, or love, or masturbation.
The new books follow an evaluation by a team appointed by basic education minister Angie Motshekga. The team found that LGBTIQ+ people were mentioned only twice in 39 textbooks in nine subjects.
Wasserman said she worked on the entire sexuality “thread” of the textbook, which incorporated more than just sexuality and gender identity.
“It is a very progressive and integrative curriculum, which means that sexuality, although a separate subject, is threaded in with other subjects and vice versa.
“My contribution was creating a cutting-edge curriculum based on current comprehensive sexuality education curricula globally, and together with the team adapting it for South African learners.
“Masturbation is normalised and it is threaded through [the curriculum] from grade 4. It begins with self pride, self-image, body diversity, genital differences, genital changes and touching oneself for pleasure.”
She said grade 4 pupils would learn about consent in friendships, and older pupils would learn about sexual consent.
“The curriculum was geared for the 2020 South African learner: who is he, she, they? A fluid, gender non-conforming child raised in a family of a mom and an absent dad.”
The Sunday Times has established that the textbooks will feature stories of ordinary South African heroes, those who have made a difference in their communities, and also disabled sportsmen and women.
There is the inspiring story of two young Free State boys, Mokoni Chaka and Evert du Preez, who rescued passengers during a train tragedy in Kroonstad last year.
Grade 5 pupils will read about South African Paralympian Ntando Mahlangu, 17, a blade runner who won a silver medal in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, Brazil, at the age of 14, and Kgothatso Montjane, a wheelchair-bound tennis player who competed in Wimbledon last year.
Grade 8 pupils are invited to tweet the sports minister about pay disparities between sportsmen and women after they read about national team footballer Sanah Mollo’s complaints that she and her teammates receive less than their male counterparts.
Mollo, who was part of the Banyana Banyana team at the 2016 Rio Olympics, wrote: “By the time I was nine, I was already serious about soccer and my parents were unhappy about my unladylike hobby.”
She said Banyana players needed to find other jobs to make ends meet.
The new grade 6 textbook refers to a Muslim girl who loves swimming. A new swimming teacher tells her she is wearing a veil so he knows she can’t swim.
Pupils are asked what the teacher had done wrong and how he had caused harm.
The department’s director-general, Mathanzima Mweli, said the new textbooks were a direct response to the findings of the ministerial team. “New writers [of all races] will help to create textbooks that reflect the diversity of the country,” he said.
Commenting on the books featuring local heroes and people who were making a difference, he said: “We want our textbooks to reflect the national and international experience but to have a slant that reflects the experience of SA and the African continent.”
Lee-Anne Walker, director of Be True 2 Me, an organisation working with the department on LGBTIQ+ issues, said an important conversation to be had was the definition of a nuclear family in a nation where there were many single parents.
Walker said that the textbooks needed to be more relevant on “what are families”.
Hayley Walker, chair of Protective Behaviours Southern Africa, who declined to comment on the content of the textbooks, said they were long overdue because “too many life skills have been left to chance”.
“Teachers are nervous about dealing with the controversial issues like gender identity, sexuality, consent and access to birth control,” she said. Some parents felt that when teachers spoke to their children about sexuality, “they were almost encouraging homosexuality or encouraging them to be transgender”, said Walker.
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