Close to 50 percent of teachers at public-supported junior high schools in Tokyo say education ministry curriculum guidelines on sex education are out of step with the times.

Nearly 10 percent of junior highs already discuss or plan to mention birth control and abortion during sex education classes, even though those topics are not covered by official guidelines.

A Tokyo metropolitan board of education study on sex education issues, announced Sept. 13, showed that almost half of respondents deem such discussions as necessary.

Debate on appropriate levels of sex education at junior high schools was sparked earlier this year after a Liberal Democratic Party member of the Tokyo metropolitan assembly accused a public junior high in the capital’s Adachi Ward of not toeing the ministry guidelines.

After an investigation, the metropolitan education board concluded that the school acted inappropriately in raising “sexual intercourse,” “birth control” and “abortion” issues during a class in March.

Board officials said those topics are not included in the ministry guidelines for health and physical education for junior high school students, under which a sex education class is usually given.

The metropolitan board contends that content going beyond the ministry guidelines can be taught only when students’ parents or guardians agree that discussion of such matters is appropriate.

But many teachers and experts have taken issue with the metropolitan board’s position on grounds that official thinking on sex education falls behind what is going among teenagers.

In the August survey of principals of all 624 public junior high schools in Tokyo, 55 schools, or 9 percent, replied that they discuss or plan to discuss how to avoid pregnancy and other topics that are not included in the ministry guidelines.

The number of schools that explained birth control, abortion, the use of condoms and sexual intercourse totaled 27, 11, five and three, respectively.

The ratio of principals who agreed or “strongly” agreed to the need to also teach topics not covered by the guidelines came to a combined 46 percent.

The study also found that a combined 48 percent of respondents feel that students do not have a sufficient grasp of issues involving sex.

Eighty-nine percent said inviting doctors or sex education experts would be effective, while 79 percent urged the metropolitan board or other entities to dispatch instructors.

Haruo Asai, a representative of the Council for Education and Study on Human Sexuality, a private group of teachers and medical personnel, stressed the importance of tailoring sex education for children to realistic needs.

“As sex education at Japanese schools is falling behind by international standards, materials for sex education should be updated to reflect what is really going in society,” said Asai, who is also professor emeritus of child welfare at Rikkyo University. “The Tokyo metropolitan board of education should revise its own guidelines for teachers and schools that see the strong need for it.”