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Pornography to be studied in class under Junior Cert revamp

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A new Junior Cert curriculum will see lessons about pornography given in the classroom for the first time in Ireland, following a major review of Relationships and Sexuality Education.

A revamp for the teaching of young teenagers, to be published today, could prove controversial among some parents.

The draft curriculum will tackle pornography, with reference to the online world, and the sharing of sexual images. It will then further deal with consent and matters such as gender stereotyping.

The demand for addressing such issues is student-led, the Irish Independent understands, and has now found official agreement.

The Department of Education has also concluded that the existing approach to such education in schools was “heavily concerned with the risks and dangers associated with relationships and sexuality, and did not allow for sufficient discussion of the positive, healthy and enjoyable aspects”.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) will today publish a draft course for all pupils on sex education. “Every school, irrespective of ethos, will have to deliver it,” a source told the Irish Independent.

The two subjects involved are called SPHE (Social, Personal and Health Education) and RSE (Relationships and Sexuality Education).

It involves “new material on a range of issues, including consent, safe use of the internet, pornography, gender identity and sexual orientation, healthy and positive relationships, and addiction issues”.

There will now be a three-month period of public consultation. It is intended that the curriculum can be finalised and rolled out in schools from September next year.

“All interested parties can make their views known through this consultation process,” a spokesman said.

ducation Minister Norma Foley has said the “catalyst” for this revamp is to empower students to "meet the challenges of life in the 21st century".

Minister Foley said this is a draft document and it will include a key feature on the safe use of the internet and social media.

“It is covering really all areas of wellbeing, making healthy choices, relationships and sexuality and understanding myself and others,” she told RTÉ.

“It is a recognition that the present syllabus as it exists is more than 20 years old and we live in a very different world now and I think really, we’re conscious that our students live every day with their mobile phones, and we need to ensure that the information they do get is expert information.

“We’re looking at a broad sweep for example, we’re conscious that in the last number of months we’ve had very clear and frank discussions on domestic and gender-based violence and the national strategy has been launched, and the absolute determination to pursue a zero-tolerance approach.

“We need to empower our students not to except domestic and gender-based violence, to recognise the attitudes that underpin it and importantly to call it out when they see it.

“We need to change how information is given to our students, we need to ensure that our staff are appropriately trained and so I’m also rolling out post graduate studies, all costs of which will be covered by the Department so that our staff have the skills to teach this information.”

Ms Foley said students need to be aware of the risks and consequences in relation to sharing sexual images online.

“There will be a focus on discussing how to share personal information in a safe, respectful manner online, to examine the risks and consequences of sharing sexual images online and specifically looking at issues of pornography, the objectifying of women,” she said.

“I think students need to be given the information that will allow them to make the judgement that it is important how they share personal information, thoughts, opinions, emotions online and that they should do it in a safe respectful manner.”

National parent bodies have already had an input, but there has also been “extensive consultation with students”, as well as with teaching bodies and interested organisations.

Research revealed that for most students the instruction received was “simply not meeting the demands of modern life”.

The NCCA says there should now be only one integrated curriculum in this area, rather both RSE and SPHE courses.

Also taught will be sexual orientation, unhealthy abusive relationships, contraception, safer sexual health, LGBTQ+ and addictions.

The Department of Education said there will be “proactive communication with stakeholders” to inform them of the consultation period.

There will be major engagement with approximately 70 NGOs and special interest groups. The NCCA will also engage by “physically going out to schools” .

Meanwhile, work on updating the SPHE/ RSE curriculum at Senior Cycle is also now under way.

A background paper and brief are being prepared which will guide the work. It follows the announcement by Education Minister Norma Foley in March of ambitious plans for a reimagined Leaving Cert, with equity and excellence for all.

It will put the student “at the centre of their Senior Cycle experience”, officials said.

It is anticipated the draft updated Senior Cycle SPHE/RSE curriculum will be available for public consultation by the autumn next year.

The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland (RCNI) has welcomed the move and the opening of a consultation on the new Junior Cycle Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) curriculum.

It said the updated curriculum is “essential in a rapidly changing social, cultural and sexual landscape faced where sexual violence remains a persistent and widespread threat to young people”.

The executive director of RCNI said research shows that Irish adolescents are experiencing “high levels of sexual harassment and that for girls in particular sexual harassment and violence is normalised, denied and minimised”.

Cliona Saidlear said: “The children who will benefit from this comprehensive new curriculum must be given the tools to address their own and others’ desires and demands appropriately against our misogynistic cultural backdrop.”

Green Party Education Spokesperson, Senator Pauline O'Reilly, also welcomed the move as a “comprehensive and inclusive approach to Relationships and Sexual Education for the first time in Ireland”.

Senator O’Reilly said it is important to have an “education that is not tied to religious or other ethos”.

"For the first time in the history of the State RSE will be set by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and must be followed by all schools regardless of ethos,” she said.

“It will recognise gender and sexual orientation and equip young people with the tools they need to seek consent, as well as respect each other in relationships. The is key to Green Party policies.

Meanwhile, the NCCA is also in the process of redeveloping the primary school curriculum, with a foundation document, upon which curriculum specifications will be developed, to be furnished to the department late this year.



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