Monday, April 18, 2005

Teaching Science and Sex Ed in Egypt, Part 2

So back to my son's science textbook. My son is in "Third Preparatory" which is the Egyptian equivalent of 8th grade.

The section on "The Reproductive System" in the science textbook includes diagrams of the internal body parts of the male and female human reproductive systems, as well as the reproductive system of some sort of plant (I am writing this from memory).

Then, there is an abrupt segue into various sexually transmitted diseases, which are described very briefly. They include syphilis, AIDS and herpes (I am not sure about herpes, actually, but there was a third one). The treatments are given very briefly for each disease. Then there is a list of bullet points for prevention. They include (drum roll):

* Listen to your elders, such as your teachers, parents, and imams
* Follow moral values
* Observe hygienic practices (this is how it is stated, in English - there is no clearer injunction such as "take baths" or "wash your hands" or "use a condom" so it is entirely unclear to what they are referring)
* Attend prayers

The Egyptian approach to sex education seems to be that if you pretend sex just does not happen and don't use the word in your science text on the reproductive system, it will not occur to kids to have it. This approach seems to me to be overly based on wishful thinking.

There is no information in the Egyptian curriculum about birth control or actual protection against sexually transmitted diseases, nor is there an explanation of how sex occurs, except the description of reproduction on a cellular level.

What seemed to me, however, to be most misleading, was not the information that they chose not to give to the kids (understandable for 13 year olds in a conservative society, after all) but the information they gave on disease prevention. I felt that listing prayer and hygiene as ways to prevent AIDS and syphilis was downright dishonest. These diseases are spread through sex alone, basically. If you have sex with someone with AIDS, it is doubtful that taking a bath and going to the mosque will help you.

Even if you think that faith can help you prevent diseases, this is a belief, not a scientifically proven fact, and therefore there is no place for it in a science textbook.

I have had a series of long conversations with my son about the facts of life, so that he does not get himself into a mess through a lack of information. I do not think I am encouraging him to be sexually active, particularly as I don't think he's ready at all. But I don't think that lying to kids this age is going to do anything positive at all.

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Anonymous said...

hello,
i am an student at AUC Egypt and im doing a paper on Sex Ed in Egypt for an Anthropology paper and was wondering if i could use some of the information on your sons textbook in my paper because i have been trying to get a hold of schools to allow me to read some of their textbooks but they haven't allowed me to.
Thank you

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