‘Putting children at risk’

One must also point out that the State – which has a Constitutional obligation to provide free education in Malta – is duty-bound to ascertain that the same level of education is made available to everybody.

A recent controversy surrounding sex education in Malta – in particular, how the subject is currently being taught in PSCD lessons – is ironically also a very good example of why such subjects are needed in the first place.

It began when the parents of a 10-year-old schoolchild (one of them a former PSCD teacher) took to Facebook to complain about a workbook published by the Education Department.

It later transpired that these two parents are somewhat associated with Ivan Grech Mintoff, the self-styled leader of Alleanza Bidla – a conservative, Christian political party contesting this week’s European elections – which has in the past also associated itself with elements from River Of Love ministry, that separately was involved in various similar controversies: mainly regarding its views of homosexuality as ‘pathological’ and ‘immoral’. 

These views are strongly reflected in the substance of the parents’ complaint. “[When I used to teach] we talked about sexuality, but not this filth, these diabolical lessons. I was surprised, I was shocked at the diabolical lessons, the dirty lessons in this book for 10-year-olds, who, like my daughter have no idea what is being shown to them,” the mother said.

“The book features people introducing themselves as gay, wearing their underwear, introducing themselves as gay superheroes… I want to ask, what has it all come to for us to be teaching this to 10-year-olds,” she said.

Another issue appears to be the fact that the book includes “a conversation between a boy and a girl who look about 11 or 12”.

“They discuss how they boy feels when they are near each other, how he feels when she is near him and when she is pressing on him, and the same for her. This is what is being taught in PSCD in Year 6.”

The Education Ministry responded by publishing the workbook online: and under scrutiny, the PSCD workbook can be seen to be very age-appropriate. It introduces children to the inevitable acceptance of themselves as sexual beings, and prepares them to safeguard themselves when that happens.

Paradoxically, it is partly because of this educational need that those parents’ concerns are, in a general sense, understandable. They themselves are products of a very different educational system, which until recently was based on strict gender segregation… until the age of 15/16, when boys and girls would suddenly mingle, with no preparation whatsoever, at the most ‘critical’ (as it were) age.

Sex education may not have been entirely absent from the curriculum, even then; but until recently it was almost exclusively reserved to the home. 

Parents had – or thought they had – ‘control’ over this aspect of their children’s upbringing, too. It was, however – and still remains – the illusion of control. Children are inevitably going to become adolescents, then adults: with or without any preparation for the changes, from parents, from school, or from anywhere else. 

It is precisely to ease that transition, that the subject is now being taught in schools… where it is needed most, at the point of contact between the sexes. 

One must also point out that the State – which has a Constitutional obligation to provide free education in Malta – is duty-bound to ascertain that the same level of education is made available to everybody. Moreover, the workbook itself was crafted by experts in the curriculum department, together with child psychologists. 

It does not follow that the religious convictions of a parent should trump a well-crafted education that serves the needs of society. 

One of these needs is having a generation that can stay safe sexually, which respects diverse sexual identities, and learns how to be safe online.

An interesting observation came from one PSCD teacher: “The family unintentionally proves how indispensable the PSCD subject is in our curriculum. Although the majority of parents have their children’s well-being at heart, most don’t have the competencies or the time to educate their children themselves, and hence why schools are obligatory and we rely on qualified educators. This is the state’s way of safeguarding the right to education for all, to ensure that our children are equipped with adequate information and skills to become effective individuals and citizens. In this situation, the parents’ behaviour is unwittingly putting their child at risk […] because wanting to deprive your son/daughter of important information/awareness, in a hyper-sexualised society, is putting your child at risk.”

Indeed, the pictures in the PSCD booklet present children with pictures of different families, including a nun with children, single-mum/single-dad families, two dad and two mum families, children with grandparents... thus empowering children to draw their own picture of their own family, without fear of failing to conform to an established societal norm. This is an affirmative and empowering message, which contrasts with the way identities were erased in the not so distant past.

Nor should the undeniable existence of diverse family structures be any form of ‘threat’ to the previously established societal norm. In the main, the basic Maltese family remains very much rooted in the union between a man and a woman, with a view to having children.

Recognising variations from this norm does nothing to lessen those bonds. But it could help destigmatising people born into different social realities.

This is the Malta we should be embracing.