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Sex education becoming mandatory in British kindergartens

By Nancy Zuckerbrod
Associated Press / October 26, 2008
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LONDON - It is a controversial idea in a land known for prudishness about sex - teaching children as young as 5 about the birds and bees.

But with one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Europe, the British government is bringing sex education to all schools in England, including kindergarten-age children.

While countries such as France, Holland, and China already require sex education, few places demand that it be introduced at such a young age.

"It's vital that this information doesn't come from playground rumor or the mixed messages from the media about sex," Schools Minister Jim Knight said last week, announcing that sex education would be added to the national curriculum.

English schools now are required to teach basic lessons on reproduction as part of the science curriculum. Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales have separate education departments and standards. Only Scotland makes sex education voluntary.

The government has not detailed what the new curriculum will look like, but schools will be asked to provide lessons on relationships and contraception, topics not previously required. Lessons will get more sophisticated as children get older.

Elementary schools can offer lessons in naming body parts, preparing for puberty, and relationship feelings, Knight said.

For the very young, sex education will mainly be about self-awareness, he said.

"We are not talking about 5-year-old kids being taught sex," he said. "What we're talking about for key stage 1 [ages 5 to 7] is children knowing about themselves, their differences, their friendships, and how to manage their feelings."

Britain has among the highest teen pregnancy rates in Europe.

In the United States, which lacks a national curriculum, the decision to offer sex education is left to individual states and districts.

In recent years, the federal government has funded programs promoting sexual abstinence. The abstinence programs are favored by religious conservatives.

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