The controversial “relationship programme” run by the charity organisation, Focus on the Family (FOTF), will “cease its run by end-2014”, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said on Wednesday.
FOTF is the external vendor approved by the MOE to run sexuality education workshops in schools.
The MOE was responding to media queries on the “Uncomplicated” workshop at Hwa Chong Institution which had come under fire after one of its first-year students lambasted it for promoting sexism and encouraging female students to be submissive to males.
“From merely glancing through this booklet,” the HCI student, Agatha Tan said, referring to the handout at the workshop, “I learned a simple yet important lesson: that bigotry is very much alive and it was naïve of me to think I could be safe from it even in school.”
However, FOTF said “Uncomplicated” is not a sexuality programme but a “relationship programme” which it had developed with the Social Development Network, formerly known as the Social Development Unit (SDU), which is under the aegis of the Ministry of Social Development and Family (MSF).
The MOE did not give reasons why it is halting the programme, or why it was not stopping it with immediate effect, but confirmed that FOTF had been appointed by the MSF to run the workshop.
It was also reported that the 31/2-hour workshop has been running since 2009, and was an “opt-out course for students in junior colleges which engage the charity”, the Straits Times said.
The MOE also stressed that it has in place “a stringent vetting and approval process for the engagement of external providers.”
“An MSF spokesperson confirmed that the ministry had vetted the contents of the workshop in a way similar to the MOE’s processes for sexuality education programmes,” the TODAY newspaper reported on Thursday.
The MSF also said it “conduct[s] audits on the workshops.”
On Tuesday, a group of petitioners who said they were alumni of Hwa Chong Institution started an online petition to ask HCI to immediately withdraw the programme until concerns raised were addressed by the school.
The petition, which has since garnered several hundred signatures, was created by software engineer, Irene Oh, a graduate of the former Hwa Chong Junior College.
“We find it hugely problematic that the girls in Hwa Chong are being explicitly told that they have to suppress dissenting opinions if they want to maintain a relationship with a male partner,” the petition said. “Furthermore, it is also very harmful for boys to be told indirectly that they are entitled to relationships with girls who do not ‘question their opinions and argue with them all the time.’”
Both MOE and MSF, and HCI, are looking into the incident, while FOTF itself has defended the programme.
On Tuesday, Ms Vicky Ho, the spokesperson for FOTF, said that the programme curriculum is based on “well-researched material by various trusted family life and relationship experts.”
She also explained that the programme was “designed to be a relationship program to help young people unravel the world of the opposite sex, uncover the truths of love and dating, and reveal what it takes to have healthy and meaningful relationships.”
However, when asked how many schools it is currently conducting the programme in, FOTF declined to give details.
HCI’s principal, Dr Hon Chiew Weng, has yet to speak publicly about the matter, or addressed students and faculty about it.
FOTF is headed by Jason Wong, who is also the executive director of Honour (Singapore), a non-governmental organisation which was itself in the news recently, after The Online Citizen raised questions of its Christian members on its board.
Mr Wong too has not responded to the uproar over the FOTF programme.
“Rules on external sexuality education programmes were tightened after a furore broke out in 2009 over a programme offered by the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), leading the MOE to suspend all external programmes.
“In 2010, six providers were appointed to provide sex education programmes, including Focus on the Family and three other groups affiliated to Christian organisations, drawing criticism from former AWARE president and women’s rights activist Constance Singam.”