A book on sex education aimed at children aged 10 to 13 years discusses puberty, biology, consent, sexualities, and contraception in an easy-to-read accessible language.
Dr Nathalie Psaila, the author, specialises in family medicine and has taken a keen interest in promoting reproductive health as a women’s rights activists.
It will also be the first sex education book with a Maltese translation.
“While I was researching the book, I came across many parents who said that they couldn’t find good material to educate their kids,” Psaila said.
Together with the Family Planning Advisory Service, the pro choice helpline and advisory service, Psaila realised that there was a lot of misinformation among teenagers and adults that called the service. “This book is aimed at filling in the gaps,” she said.
“The government PSCD syllabus is pretty comprehensive, but there is no standard curriculum across the board like there is, for example, for Maths and English for church and independent schools,” Psaila pointed out.
She said the subject remains a “mixed bag” in church and independent schools – with the former only teaching the bare minimum and the latter not always having a PSCD teacher.
‘My Body’s Fantastic Journey’ notably discusses the morning-after pill and details when it’s appropriate to take the pill and how it works.
Psaila said it was important to reach children before they become sexually active, referring to apprehensions parents might have about the book and its themes.
“The book is for 10-13-year-olds, and it’s to be looked at with a parent or teacher. This isn’t something children should be looking at alone. However, I think it is important to reach children before they become sexually active. To teach them what to look out for and how to protect themselves,” she said.
Psaila added that sex education depended on how liberal or conservative teachers tend to be on the matter.
“This is particularly important in the church and independent schools. Many parents find it difficult to speak to their children about sex education, so having a book would help them discuss it. This also applies to children who go to government schools. The education officers said they see a need for tools to help parents speak to their children.”
Psaila added that so far, the response has been mostly positive. “I have had few teachers show interest in using the book.”
‘PSCD has fallen to the wayside due to the pandemic’
Speaking to MaltaToday separately, PSCD teacher Rachel Zammit said that PSCD (personal, social and career development) has already fallen by the wayside during the pandemic as peripatetic teachers for subjects like PSCD, Drama, Art, and Music have been given a class to teach, or replacement duties instead of delivering lessons as per syllabus.
“Moreover, a lot of schools do not have PSCD rooms, and sometimes in primary, lessons are carried out in corridors,” Zammit said.
“PSCD is an important subject that offers a safe space for students to explore and develop various interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. It is a vast subject which prepares young people for their future lives – starting from exploring one’s strengths, values and beliefs, self-esteem, healthy relationships, sexuality and relationships education, money management, career education, and various transferrable skills such as decision making, time management, problem-solving, assertiveness.
“It is also important since it provides holistic education, and we can tackle any immediacy issues that crop up during lessons. We also work closely with the schools’ psychosocial team, such as guidance teachers, career advisors, anti-substance, etc. for the students’ benefit when the need arises. This is only possible due to the intimate setting of the subject and the possibility to discuss certain topics.”
Zammit said that students have two lessons per week and that it is given enough importance in most schools. “In other schools, not so much such as the primary school’s situation, even if it is a departmental decision rather than a school-based one.”
She said the PSCD curriculum updates according to society’s needs: for example, the introduction of a topic on voting when the vote was given to electors aged 16, and on mental health when there was the need for more awareness and the importance of coping skills.
“We are always updating our lesson plans depending on current societal changes, such as including the morning after pill when it became legalised and the decriminalisation of cannabis, and anything that occurs within national and international societies,” Zammit said.
An online version of “My Body’s Fantastic Journey’ can be accessed by going to https://www.doctorsforchoice.mt/book while a physical copy can be obtained by emailing [email protected]