A Cork academic has welcomed proposals to revamp Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) for the Junior Cycle.
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) recently published a draft course for all pupils on sex education and a three-month period of public consultation is currently underway.
It is intended that the curriculum will be developed and rolled out in all secondary schools from September next year. It will cover consent, gender stereotyping, wellbeing, relationships, online pornography and the sharing of sexual images.
Professor Louise Crowley from the School of Law at UCC says the changes are badly needed.
“It is very much overdue," she said. "At the moment the schools are relying upon an old curriculum.
It is challenging for teachers to facilitate these conversations.” she said.
Prof Crowley, who pioneered the Bystander Intervention programme at third level, said these are topics that are already being discussed by young people.
“The problem is that if we don’t bring it to the school curriculum, they are having these conversations themselves in an uninformed way or perhaps informed by pornography, rape myths, social myths that are so damaging and leading to the embedding of toxic behaviour on a low level that we know escalates as well,” she explained.
The proposed new Junior Cert curriculum will see lessons about issues such as pornography, consent, safe use of the internet, sexual orientation, addiction issues and gender stereotyping given in the classroom for the first time in Ireland.
The UCC professor believes lessons on these issues are needed at secondary school level.
“My experience of this is that unfortunately by the time they get to us in UCC many young people especially young girls have been the victim of harassment, violence, and rape," she said. "That is a fact.
"I know that first years are being asked for nudes on the phones. They don’t know what to do and are worried about being socially isolated, so we need it."
Prof Crowley says 'it is incumbent upon us as a society to facilitate young people’s conversations' and 'to provide them with the information as well as a safe space to talk about them'.
“We are not sure if the young people are being heard or even if the parents have a grasp on what they are living through everyday particularly in the modern era with all the technology and the way they can access damaging information as well as pornography at their fingertips," she said. "We need to support them.
"We are talking to them acknowledging how they live, acknowledging what they see and experience and talking to them about the wrongs of it and empowering them to make right decisions for themselves."
Prof Crowley currently has a programme running in 45 secondary schools nationwide, including in 12 Cork schools, for transition year students. It covers a variety of issues including sexual relationships, sexual harassment, consent and much more.
She said it is about ‘empowering’ the students.
“It is about issues about sexual relationships, sexual harassment, consent, what an unhealthy relationship looks like as well as developing their skills to recognise problematic language and behaviour," she said.
“If they hear it from each other, they are much more likely to curb their behaviour because nobody wants to be socially isolated or be that guy or girl. It is about empowering them to be the difference themselves rather than be dictated to,” she added.
Ms Crowley believes older primary school children could also benefit from conversations about relationships.
“There is a space for children in the latter stages of primary school to have broader conversations about respect and inter-personal relationships," she said.
"I think we need to start giving them the language and the ability to say no that is not okay and give them the opportunity.
"It is something that deserves merit and further exploration when the Junior Cert curriculum steps in.”