Am. Samoa Education Director: Sex Ed Should Be Taught In Schools

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Curriculum must be ‘culturally sensitive’ to get ‘right message across’

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, April 23, 2014) – Education Department director Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau said Samoan parents today may not be inclined to have sex education taught in classrooms, and that the issue of sex education is "still swept under the rug". However, the DOE director said that she concurs with Marilyn A. Pavitt-Anesi, who heads LBJ hospital's Family Planning division, that sex education should be part of the health curriculum, and taught in a culturally sensitive manner.

Pavitt-Anesi told Samoa News that data on teen pregnancy between 2011 and 2013 shows an increase of only point-three of one percent, but she believes these statistics can be brought down further, and there is more work to be done.

She recalled that in 2012, Fagaitua High School seniors hosted a forum for politicians running for the local House race in the Eastern District, and students noted at that forum that they wanted sex education as part of their school curriculum.

Pavitt-Anesi supports "having health education courses which include sex education" (but that is her own personal opinion) and she supports it being taught in a manner that is culturally accepted, in order to get the right message across to teenagers.

Responding to Samoa News questions and request for comments, Dr. Hunkin-Finau pointed out that typical Samoan parents today may not be so inclined for DOE to teach sex education at all in public schools.

"...however, I truly believe if parents were made aware of the rise in teen pregnancy in our community over the last five years, and the impact of teaching sex education compared to not educating students about sex, I believe most parents would be open to reviewing the curriculum and having their children learn about it in school," she said Monday night.

"I believe our community has come of age regarding this rather sensitive issue — because it's not just about the physical development of the reproductive system of males and females, but tied very closely to this aspect, is the moral responsibility NOT taught alongside the physical development part of the curriculum in school," she said.

"The moral responsibility part of teaching sex education must be borne by the parents, community and religious leaders," said the DOE director, who added that a "classic example of what happens to a community faced with a brewing issue — denied its importance for discussion and preventive plan — is the the most recent pink eye epidemic."

"I was surprised. It caught people like wild fire. Over 3000 students and over 300 teachers and staff were affected. Despite Health Department’s not so enthusiastic campaign to inform the public to stay home, wash hands, etc., people and children were still visible with pink eye everywhere in public," she said. "Why was that? In my humble opinion, people did and still do not thoroughly understand pink eye, how to prevent spreading it, and steps to take care of it, if contracted.

"Sex education or ‘Aoaoga tau Itu Tino Sa’ has not received its full approval from the community to be thoroughly taught in the classroom. Sex Education is still swept under the rug [or in Samoan] O se mataupu o loo ta'ai faafala ona o le popolega o matua I lona faatalanoaina maaleale," the DOE director said.

Dr. Hunkin-Finau says she concurs with Marilyn Pavitt-Anesi's opinion that sex education should be taught in school in a culturally responsive manner and that it should be part of the Health/Physician Education (PE) course work.

"I believe students in grades 7 to 12 should have at least a half a semester of Health/PE class which should include sex education," she noted.

She offered a suggestion for Samoa News and its reporter. She said, "It would be interesting if you were to do a random survey of, say, 100 high school parents and 100 elementary parents of students in grades 6-8, to ask how they feel about sex education and whether it would be beneficial for their children if offered in school, what age it should be taught and how/what specific contents should be taught."

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