Nepal | August 05, 2020

Teaching population studies: The right age to start

Mira Gotame
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It’s better to address the queries of the students in time, which is both the demand of the curriculum and of their age. Today’s kids should not be made to suppress their feelings and curiosities

Last year, after the parents-teachers meeting was over, the school authority came to me and asked, “Do you think it’s good to teach about family planning to the sixth graders?” The sudden question made me feel uncomfortable. It’s not for me to decide what to teach, it’s the curriculum that directs us what, when and how to teach different subjects for certain grades. So, I replied, “The curriculum itself demands that the students should be able to find out the measures of population growth.

Without knowledge about family planning, it’s impossible to teach population management.” I cannot say if she was convinced with my answer, but that is the truth. She had inquired because some of the parents had put up the question.

The parents were right to be concerned. As parents, they have every right to ask when they are not happy with certain things. They felt that it was too early to expose things related to family planning to 11-year-olds. But, as a teacher, I feel it’s the right time to start.

Even if it is not taught in the schools, they are going to learn about it anyhow.  Furthermore, there is always that danger of wrong intakes from the wrong people or source. We can’t stop them from growing and learning from every possible means.

If we don’t teach them formally, they will learn it informally. Even if we don’t want them to know they will always find ways. As pre-teens, it’s obvious for them to be curious and search different mediums to quench their curiosity. Then how could it be wrong in teaching them the essentials of life in a class in a decent manner?

I know that the parents consider their 11-year-olds to be small. However, they act differently with their peers. They show signs that they are ready for the change. Due to hormonal changes, their behaviour also starts changing. Their attraction toward the opposite sex can be easily felt. Love, affairs and link
-ups become their favourite topics.

Therefore, this is the right time to introduce them to the subject of population and its management. The best thing about the curriculum is that the chapter is to be taught at the end of the session, not at the beginning. By then, they have grown physically too and are ready to receive the different concepts about population.

Every year, I kind of find the sixth graders to be small enough to introduce the topic. So there is a sense of hesitation in the beginning. But by the end of the session, they come up with so many queries. They have queries about menstruation, menstrual taboos, physical and mental growth, mood swings, desires, affairs, marriage, early marriage, birth of a child, use of contraceptives, family planning and many more. It’s better to address their queries in time. It’s not only the demand of the curriculum, but also the demand of the times and their age. The sooner you try to address their queries, the better the result will be.  It’s not necessary for today’s kids to suppress their feelings and curiosities like we did in our time.

My past experience says that students have a great deal of interest in these matters. According to my colleagues, whenever there are related programmes in school, they relate the topics with population.

Even in the Model United Nations (MUN) programme, which is held in many schools in Kathmandu, I heard students sharing about the aspects of population growth and family planning with great interest. The students from grades 6 to 10, especially the pre-teens and teenagers, all show an interest in the topic according to their age. If they find it meaningful, then who are we to stop them from their learning process?

Though these things are normal for a teacher, but as parents we panic. Being a mother of a 9-year-old myself, I too feel that I will never be able to teach such things to my son. But what we can’t do as parents, a teacher can.

A teacher can be a true mentor to guide the students. If students believe in a teacher, they can learn the things for life. They will never be deviated. Thus, teachers must be trusted. If we don’t have faith in the teachers, whom will we put our trust upon?

To sum up, I would like to share my personal experience. While I was teaching the same topic, I needed to know about their pre-knowledge. It would help me to prepare my lessons ahead. Usually, we have interaction sessions where the children feel free to share their ideas. Their sharing has always given me insightful knowledge.

At the moment, some were hesitating to say anything whereas others were totally embarrassed. Some were pretending to be ignorant about the issues. When I motivated them to speak up freely, one boy opened up.

To my surprise, he not only knew about some contraceptive devices and their uses, but he also knew their price. This was beyond my imagination. Obviously, I asked him how he came to know about them. He replied that one of his friends from the community had him buy them in a pharmacy. He is just one example.

Everyone will not be as daring as him in expressing themselves, but students do have knowledge through various means.  I feel that children are the mirror of society. We always consider our children to be small, ignorant and innocent, and we seldom try to check their level of understandings. Neither do we tend to check their whereabouts. If we don’t start in their pre-teens, then the right time will never come.

A version of this article appears in print on September 09, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.

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