The Egyptian government has decided to remove all sex education from the school curriculum. This means that biology students between 16 and 17 years of age will no longer cover the topic of reproductive health. And science text books for younger children, between 12 and 14 years of age, will not include drawings of reproductive systems, or descriptions on how the testicles and ovaries work. The Egyptian Education Ministry will expect schools to keep any talk of sex education or information about reproduction to “class discussion on the subject”.
Some education experts in Egypt are seriously worried about the change and the impact it could have on the health of young people. Given the sensitivity of the topic and pressures from an increasingly conservative and religious society, they believe teachers are unlikely to cover the topic in class. And traditionally, many families are reluctant to discuss sexual issues with their children. Most children in the region have to rely on sources other than their parents for information.
Educationalists are also concerned that the only discussion of sex which children will hear in public will come from religious leaders, where the focus is on abstinence until marriage. This means there is no discussion of ‘safe sex’ and the use of condoms. World Aids Day will be marked on 1 December this year with campaigns across the region. Currently there is a low incidence of HIV/AIDS across the Middle East and North Africa, where by the end of 2008 there were estimated to be just over 300,000 people living with the disease. But HIV/AIDS is on the rise and is particularly dangerous in a region where young people (between 15 and 24) account for one fifth of the population. In a 2006 survey of street children in Egypt, more than 95% were reported to be engaging in sexual behaviour.
Without sex education, many fear that sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS could begin to spread much more widely. A public awareness study conducted in Egypt in 2008, showed that less than 2% of women among the poorest fifth in Egyptian society knew the basic facts about the disease. Even among the wealthiest class, awareness only rose to 16%. Men were more aware of the facts concerning HIV/AIDS, but even then, less than a third of males in the wealthiest group knew that someone could be HIV-positive and still appear healthy.
For one relationship and dating adviser in Egypt, the government’s decision to remove any form of sex education from science lessons is therefore an extremely worrying step. She worries for her society and feels that Egypt is “heading to disaster”.