Redbricks School, located in Ahmedabad’s Ashok Nagar, recently came into the limelight for providing a curriculum on Comprehensive Sexuality Education, as part of which students of grade 1 and 2 were given ‘Understand My Body’ lessons.
The issue of providing sexual education to six and seven-year-olds, whose brains were still developing, was highlighted after many of the parents complained of the school’s decision.
In December 2022, the school issued a circular to the parents stating that they have started such sessions as it is necessary for the students to be aware of the proper terminology, and have precise knowledge regarding processes such as reproduction.
Through the CSE program, the students also delved into topics such as “friendships” and “gender roles” under the module ‘My Safety’.
The circular further stated the human anatomy terminology the students would be exposed to such as “genitals, vagina, vulva, penis, anus, breast, nipples and belly-button”.
Redbricks School Principal Sutapa Mishra said that the programme aims to ensure the safety and well-being of children by helping them cope with the ever changing world. She added that the programme helps the children gain awareness about safe and unsafe situations and learn how to talk about their body safety with trusted adults.
She further stated that the programme is based on proven research and on the lines of the UNESCO, World Health Organization, the United Nations and National Curriculum Framework, and the National Commission for Protection of Children’s Rights guidelines.
As per a report by Ahmedabad Mirror, one parent said that after the sessions, some students started showing, naming and identifying their body parts publicly in the school bus. In response to this, the school principal said that children are very curious and get exposed to many influences, adding that such incidents could not be directly connected to the sessions.
She went on to mention that the school provides psychologists to help children with their social and emotional issues.
Dr Prashant Bhimani, a consulting psychologist said that at the age of 6-7, children’s cognitive, social and psychological development is still taking place, and it is therefore a very early age to teach them about human anatomy. He further added that naming the organs could cause other issues such as those related to sexual orientation. He agreed that sex education is important but grade 5 and 6 is the appropriate time to teach the same.
Meanwhile, child psychologist Riri Trivedi said that there is no such age as ‘too young’ for the child to be introduced to the subject. However, she added that the construction of the sessions, the exposure and the language should be age-appropriate, and the children should also be taught not to show the body parts publicly.
She further agreed that at this tender age, children are curious and imparting knowledge in the correct way could take care of a lot of issues.
Deepmala Sharma, a writer and podcaster, whose daughter Kimaya is in grade one, said, “Children at this age don’t know about the term anatomy. They are curious about questions such as ‘Where have I come from?’ However, they don’t know about the anatomical terms. But I feel at this age it is not required for them to know about these and graphically expose them to it. It is very difficult to explain these to them.”
She added, “They should be taught about good touch and bad touch and sex education should be provided but in an appropriate manner. Telling them about this in simple terms… they would grasp the essence of it. At this age their brain is still developing and they are very curious and they wouldn’t know how and when to display this problem appropriately.”
Dr Reshma Patel, a BFR therapist, expressed her opinion about sex education saying, “Children at this age are very tender. Teaching them about basic safety issues and good and bad touch is fine but the anatomical details need to be taught from 6-7 grade.”
She further added that she has a 10-years-old child and she cannot tell the kid in depth about the knowledge of reproduction. “Telling them the basics is okay and the rest as it is they would be taught in 1-2 years in school,” said the doctor, referring to the school curriculum on reproduction process.
Neetu, who has a daughter in the second grade, said, “It is necessary to be outspoken about sex education. I also have a son in the eighth grade and they have been introduced to the reproduction process in their Science class. At that age he is mature enough to understand and I can discuss these with him openly. He can also relate with them as he is going through changes. But for grades one and two, it is enough to talk about good touch and bad touch, but using sexual terminology… the kids don’t know how and when to use them appropriately.”
She continued, “India is still far behind in sex education. Even when the topic of reproduction is taught in class, the teacher rushes to complete it in one day as they find it difficult to speak with them openly about this topic. If parents and teachers don’t be outspoken about this topic with the kids, in their curiosity, they refer to online media platforms to search about this and in the process get exposed to inappropriate content.”
Sex education is an important component of personal development, and should be taught in a manner that is age-appropriate, also keeping in mind the environmental factors and remembering that the child is undergoing other psychological and biological development.
Imparting knowledge correctly and carefully with a well-thought out process could avoid a lot of problems.
When you cover one aspect of graphically exposing the students to the human anatomy and sexual organs, in the process, one cannot forget that the 6-year-old, in their curiosity and innocence, might not know how to use that information appropriately. This could lead to incidents such as public demonstrations, or even bringing up the topic randomly at a dining room discussion.
There is a lot of easy exposure to explicit media and content that children can get their hands on at an age where they are curious and sensitive to their surroundings, and are easily impressionable. Such environmental factors also need to be considered.
At a young age, imparting knowledge about safety, concepts of good and bad touch, and seeking the help of a trustworthy adult in case of concerns, can be managed. Some also agree that they should be made aware of body parts. However, it should be done in a scientific, appropriate manner, and other aspects such as how and when to use that knowledge correctly should be kept in mind.