Sex education is the most important subject for teachers
January 21, 2002
When things happen slowly we tend to ignore them, but when they happen suddenly they capture our attention and the headlines. It's called the boiled frog syndrome. Your editorial on the recruitment and emigration of our teachers is a case in point (SN 01-18-02). Forty years ago, we probably had one of the best educational systems in the English-speaking Caribbean. Today, ours is probably the weakest. It has happened gradually and relentlessly.
We are perhaps losing more teachers to other sectors in the economy than to migration. And we may be losing more teachers to HIV/AIDS than to migration. But these are gradual and unseen.
The story of the school system in one province in South Africa is a startling indication of what lies ahead for us. In Kwa Zulu-Natal, 85% of the schools have reported a death of at least one teacher from HIV/AIDS. Their replacements are younger and have a higher incidence of HIV. It is expected that in the next 10 years there will be a need to replace 70,000 teachers in that province alone. In just four years, first grade enrollment has dropped by 60%. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that 50% of today's 15 year olds will die before they are 25 years old. We remain blissfully ignorant of the rampage around us.
Really huge problems like global warming are gradual and lack the drama of nine-day wonders. You are right to point to the shudder that the recruitment of teachers makes in our educational system, but that pales in comparison to the havoc of the longer term, more enduring problems you mention - like salaries, life opportunities, working conditions and HIV/AIDS.
Years ago, someone writing in your columns claimed that sex education was by far the most important subject for our schools - more important than Mathematics or English. The student first needed to learn how to stay alive. Borrowing that line, I would argue that sex education is now the most important subject for Teachers Colleges.