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I recently heard two very annoying and irritating pieces of news on the radio, on separate occasions yet on the same station... I think.

The first one was a discussion that had been triggered by the, somewhat light-hearted, news that a primary school in Shropshire had employed people to teach pupils how to use a knife and fork. The argument was that because parents belong to the fast-fod generation, many pupils in schooling age are incapable of eating 'properly', which is why that school had made such a decision. Two people on air were arguying the pros and cons of such a decision: one was saying that if parents fails to teach their children some basic social skills, then schools shoud be made responsible for that teaching. The other was saying that parents should not expect schools to do it as it was a parental responsibility and that schools shouldn't be spending their money on such things because thay will not help any child get a better grade at their exams. Do table manners constitute a chapter of the Citizenship GCSE? I doubt it. However, should we not try to give our youngsters some help concerning their general social being?

The other one that really irritated me was the observation that sex education isn't taught well enough in schools as the rising number of STIs shows. I am of those who think that if we give too much information to children it will only achieve one thing: they'll want to try it themselves. I think that sex education should also be delivered at home and not only at school. I nderstand that it can be embarrassing for parents to talk to their children about it but it is as uncomfortable for teachers to talk about it in class. I still think that youngsters need to know what they'll experience and what they risk. It is just too easy to blame the educational system as soon as the something goes wrong for the under 16s.

What are your views on these issues?

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It's a tricky one. Here in Tasmania all high schools have teachers who have some specialist training in "Health", usually the PE or Science teachers and they teach compulsory units on sex education in Yr 7-10 which seem to work quite well, although I accept it might be too late. Thay also always bring in outside experts from Family Planning etc. This is probably more acceptable here as we do not have any compulsory state exams until Yr 12/13 and our curriculum is not nationally set.

As for manners - I guess you DO have to teach the things that parents fail to do, sometimes just to make life more acceptable for everyone in the class, in the same way you teach behaviour management/control to those whose parents have failed to do that also. I believe parents ARE doing less in this area than they used to, and that's not a good thing for society generally, but do you, as a teacher, just put up with it, try to educate parents, or try to educate both?

It's a hard one to call!

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In Germany sex education is a compulsory part of the biology curriculum in the years 6 to 10; it is also part of the citizenship and ethics curriculum. These curricula not only aim at informing students about the biological facts and details but also about the responsibility everyone has concerning sex and sexuality. School always cooperates with the parents especially as we also have students from different ethnic backgrounds (mainly Muslims) who have a different view of informing students- especially girls - about sex and reproduction. There are many youth magazines available in Germany which always have a worry aunt/uncle and pages dealing with gender, health and sexuality. The questions teenagers send in to the worry aunts/uncles mainly refer to love, sex and relationships, which shows that still not enough is done at home and at school.

As far as I know Germany has a fairly low rate of teenage pregnancies and experts say that one reason for this is that schools, parents and magazines are doing a good job at informing young people about sex, means of contraconception and family planning.

When it comes to manners I agree with Jean Walker.

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Jean says:

do you, as a teacher, just put up with it, try to educate parents, or try to educate both?

It's a hard one to call!

Indeed Jean it is a hard one to call and I agree with you that to some extent schools have to fill in when parents fail. I think what the journalist was trying to say was that society has a responsibility to educate its young through parents and institutions such as schools, however, she strongly disagreed with EMPLOYING staff to teach cutlery etiquette. When I was at school, I had to have school dinners from nursery to A-Levels. When I started at the age of 26 months, I certainly didn't know how to hold a knife and fork but the dinner ladies and the supervising teachers helped us. My point is that I never had lessons in cutlery management by someone coming from outside my usual environment.

As for sex education, there are no clear guidelines on how it has to be delivered to the kids here in Britain. Some schools do it across the curriculum (especially through science and RE) and some schools do it mainly through PSHE. My school belongs to the former and none of my colleagues like doing it. I think because it is left to schools to decide which department will teach sex education - which I think is very important to pupils, anyway- no one is properly trained to do it. In France it is taught in year 4 (pupils 14-15 years old) as part of the biology syllabus. I remember having a test whereby I had to label all the various parts of the male reproductive organs (external and internal) and calculate the ovulation of a woman on a calendar. Only to find out a few years later that none of my boyfriends had remembered much of it at all. We also had many magazines with agony aunts and when I was a teenager they were more helpful to me than any lesson I'd had at school or talks I (never) had with my parents.

As for teenage pregnancies, I think it goes together with a certain mentality. Accidents do happen but sometimes it feels that young girls think that babies are fashion items or in some cases a means to an end. I think the welfare state is a great idea but it can easily be abused. I know that many people will disagree with me here but I have heard of cases whereby having a baby for an impoverished girl (family) is motivated by the desire of being rehoused (by the council). I feel sorry for children who are born for those reasons and who grow up in such background.

If only there were only pregnancies to worry about!! But even the rapid growth of the number of people diagnosed with various STDs such as Chlamydia or even HIV does not act as a deterrent for kids. What can we do?

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We ceratinly have the same motivation for getting pregnant here in Australia - I have taught girls in isolated, rural. poor areas whose first priority on leaving school (or before) was to get pregnant in order to get accommodation away from their parents'home, get an income and a role and something to love and something to fill up their time, because they knew they weren't going to get employment.

I actually believe we do quite a good job of sex/relationship education here in Tasmanian schools, but none of it will make up for lack of employment and economic hopelessness. Very few upper middle class teenage girls get (or at least stay) pregnant, yet here they all get the same education.

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Would the issue of teenage pregnancy be class induced an economically motivated?

It saddens me that children are brought into this world not out of love but because of boredom, lack of professional prospect and as a way of getting an income. What future have they got? I am not implying that the mothers don't love their babies, but I am slightly doubtful about the family structure which those children are brought up. I know that I am generalising but I can't see mother and father staying together after the birth. Do you? And I am not even blaming the father!! I have a pupil aged 14 1/2 who has a 4 1/2 months old baby. The mother only kept the baby possibly because she couldn't quite understand what other choices she had. My boy's mum offered to take the baby in and was turned down by the mother's mother because they were likely to get a better house because of the baby. Now the baby's mother is totally disinterested and my boy is desperate to be a good dad, and he is! But how is the child going to cope later (say in his teens) if he hasn't got his mum around?

:wacko:

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