Sex education - all you ever wanted to know about how it’s taught in other countries
1 February 2010
New research from NFER demonstrates the variety of approaches that different countries have adopted to teach sex and relationships education (SRE), and whether learning the facts of life at school should be compulsory.
NFER’s International Information Unit surveyed 17 countries worldwide to answer the following questions:
what is taught about sex and relationships education, and to what age group?
which elements of this are compulsory?
do parents have a right to withdraw their children from any aspects of SRE and up to what age?
In nearly every country surveyed SRE is part of the statutory curriculum, though usually as part of a larger subject area - for example Health and Physical Education in Victoria (Australia), Health and Career Education in British Columbia (Canada), or Physical and Mental Health in Hungary.
In France sex education is ‘one of the core social and civil competencies to be acquired in the course of mandatory education’, in Victoria sexuality education is seen as a ‘whole-school learning approach’, while in Hungary schools have ‘an unavoidable duty to address the questions of sexual culture and behaviour’.
The age that schools start teaching SRE varies, with some countries starting as young as four (Ireland) or six (Norway), but other countries, like Finland or Japan, delaying it by several years. However, in primary levels SRE tends to avoids specific reference to sex, with several countries first mentioning it in the ten to 12 age range. As students get older the curriculum content becomes more sophisticated. In Norway, for example, 12-13 year olds talk about diversity in sexual orientation, and in Finland 15 year olds receive an introductory sexual package including a condom.
In the majority of countries parents do not have the right to withdraw their children from SRE, though this is permitted in British Columbia, Singapore and Sweden. In Singapore, ‘parents bear the main responsibility for the sexuality education of their children’ and in Switzerland a recent report recommended that sex education should rely on parents as well as institutions to ‘combat myths’.
The report Sex and relationships education is available at:http://www.inca.org.uk/Sex_and_relationships_education_December_2009_.pdf
Notes to editors
In November 2009 NFER's International Information Unit, comprising the Eurydice Unit for England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the team responsible for the QCDA funded International Review of Curriculum and Assessment Frameworks Internet Archive (INCA), completed some desk research on the ways in which sex and relationships education is provided in a number of countries worldwide: Australia (Victoria), Canada (British Columbia), Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Scotland, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland.