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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ‘Life Skills’ course in the works

Students walk out of school in Phnom Penh. The Ministry of Education is preparing to approve a new, progressive health and life skills curriculum.
Students walk out of school in Phnom Penh. The Ministry of Education is preparing to approve a new, progressive health and life skills curriculum. Heng Chivoan

‘Life Skills’ course in the works

A new school course would teach children from grades 5 to 12 for the first time about LGBT issues, sex and gender-based violence, as part of a proposed Ministry of Education curriculum.

The new course, called “Life Skills”, would be taught from grade 1 to 12, with coursework on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues beginning in grade 5.

Srun Srorn, a prominent LGBT activist who had been involved in drafting the text, said the curriculum was an important step towards combating discrimination against the LGBT community in Cambodia, as the material would be taught nationwide and would cover a broad range of issues.

According to Srorn, the material on reproductive health would serve three purposes.

“First, to teach children about the biology of male and female bodies. Second, to explain gender identity and how this could differ from the biological sex. Third, to focus on gender-based violence, forced marriage and discrimination based on sexual orientation,” he said.

For example, the curriculum instructs grade 7 classes to “elaborate on the role and difference of gender and sex”, which those involved in the drafting process said would include discussion of LGBT rights.

Another part of the curriculum focuses on non-discrimination of LGBT, gender identity and self-determination when it comes to marriage choices.

Additionally, grade 11 students should “describe the access to safe, suitable and effective contraceptives describe unwanted pregnancy, describe the abortion law in Cambodia and the products for safe abortion”.

The curriculum also includes sections on prevention of gender-based violence, and how to prevent HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases – which had not been taught in schools before, according to Dr Chhay Kim Sitheavy, director of the ministry’s School Health Department. Her department was responsible for drafting the curriculum in conjunction with NGOs and Unesco.

Sitheavy said Life Skills aimed to show students that homosexuality is normal and that LGBT persons should not be discriminated against.

“Values have changed over the past years and courses need to be adapted,” she said.

She said the ministry would hold an internal meeting today to discuss the proposed curriculum. “After that, we need to conduct pilot testing,” she said. They would then hold more workshops with stakeholders and begin drafting a textbook for the 2018-19 academic year.

Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron said that before he approved the curriculum, it would need to be given the green light by the Management Department. “Once it’s reviewed I’ll sign it,” he said.

Chhoeurng Rachana from LGBT rights group CamASEAN said the organisation would work with the ministry to implement the new curriculum.

“We train the teachers to understand that there are not only [heterosexual] men and women, but also LGBTIQ,” she said.

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