Photo/IllutrationThe Asahi Shimbun

A Tokyo assembly member is leading another charge against sex education at public schools, prompting criticism from proponents of the lessons that such political interference will deprive children of crucial information for their futures.

At issue this time is the use of the terms “sexual intercourse,” “birth control” and “abortion” in a lesson given to third-year students at a public junior high school in Adachi Ward on March 5.

The lesson was held to show students how to avoid unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

A pair of teachers explained birth control methods and noted that the number of abortions surges at the high-school level. The instructors said condoms are effective protection against STDs, but their success rate in preventing pregnancies is below 90 percent.

“To avoid unwanted pregnancies, you are advised to wait to have sex until you find yourself in an environment comfortable enough to raise a child,” one of the teachers was quoted as telling the class.

But Toshiaki Koga, a 70-year-old Liberal Democratic Party member of the Tokyo metropolitan assembly, said the students are too young to learn about such issues.

“Topics like sexual intercourse and birth control are inappropriate for junior high school students,” he said. “It is our role to monitor administrative branches.”

He raised the issue at a March 16 session of the assembly’s education committee.

Heeding Koga’s opinion, the metropolitan education board has decided to instruct the Adachi Ward board of education to stop giving “inappropriate lessons.”

The Tokyo metropolitan board is also expected to issue warnings against holding such classes at a meeting of junior high school principals in the capital later this month.

The board said the expressions “sexual intercourse,” “birth control” and “abortion” are not used in the education ministry’s official curriculum guidelines for health and physical education for junior high school students.

“Using those words is inappropriate because it does not match the stage of children’s development,” an education board member said.

But experts disagree, saying it is important for young people to have a better understanding of how to avoid unintended pregnancies before they become sexually active.

Supplementary material in the ministry’s guidelines calls on teachers to “have students understand that (during puberty) boys experience ejaculation and girls experience menstruation, and becoming pregnant is possible.”

A guide produced by the Tokyo metropolitan education board based on the ministry’s guidelines touches on how to avoid AIDS and STDs, but it does not mention sexual intercourse and birth control.

An official handling the matter at the Adachi Ward board of education defended the school’s sex education lesson.

“The class takes into account the current situation in the ward, and it is designed to protect teenagers against unexpected pregnancies and giving birth, as well as falling into a cycle of poverty,” the official said. “It responds to the needs of children and their parents today.”

The principal of the school also expressed “confidence” in the content of the class.

“Our intention is to communicate to students the importance of caring for themselves and their partners,” the principal said. “Referring to methods of avoiding pregnancy certainly does not mean we think it is OK for children to have sex.”

This is not the first time that Koga has denounced the content of sex education at a Tokyo public school.

In 2003, Koga and other assembly members visited a school for children with special needs in Hino in western Tokyo and took issue with the school’s use of dolls with genitals to help the children better understand a sex education class.

The metropolitan education board later reprimanded the teachers at the school.

The teachers and parents of the students took the case to court, arguing that the actions by the politicians and board were tantamount to “undue intervention in education.”

In a 2011 ruling, the Tokyo High Court upheld a lower court decision that sided with the plaintiffs.

Koga remains adamant about his positon in the Adachi Ward case and has denied interfering with education.

In a statement released April 3 on its website, the Council for Education and Study on Human Sexuality, a private group of teachers and medical personnel, accused Koga and metropolitan education board officials of “trying to suppress sex education that is conducted from a human rights viewpoint.”

Noriko Hashimoto, professor emeritus at Kagawa Nutrition University who has researched sex education programs in Japan and overseas, said teaching children about birth control methods before they reach high school is a global standard.

“It is all the more meaningful for junior high school students to be equipped with accurate knowledge about birth control because they are in a developmental stage before they are sexually active,” she said. “The education ministry should revise the curriculum guidelines so that teachers can discuss sexuality and reproduction from both scientific and human rights perspectives without drawing criticism from the outside.”

(This article was written by Hiroko Saito and Kana Yamada.)

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Tokyo teachers call for more robust approach to sex education