Government Announces Consultation on Sex Education in Poland

Poland’s new education minister has announced a consultation exercise, the results of which could determine the way that sex education is delivered to children in the future.

Joanna Kluzik-Rostkowska, who was appointed to the Ministry of Education in November, faces a tough challenge in her bid to assess the requirements for sex education in Poland. A statement issued by the ministry said that, on the one hand, the days when it was a parent’s sole duty to teach their children about the ‘birds and the bees’ had passed – but on the other, that the ‘autonomy of family life, religious beliefs, etc’ must be respected.

Ms Kluzik-Rostkowska said: “We will do appropriate research… and together, we will consider what to do to help young people enter adulthood.”

On paper, it looks simple. Yet the task ahead of the Ministry of Education is not in reality so straightforward. ‘Human sexuality’ has, in most recent times, been a compulsory subject in Polish schools since 1998, but its scope has always been controversial.

On one side are the largely conservative, Catholic campaigners, who say that, amongst other things, teaching contraception, abortion procedures and ‘safe sex’ in the context of the individual rather than the family is dangerous for children.

In an interview with the newspaper Nasz Dziennik, Antoni Zięba, vice-president of the Polish Federation of Pro-Life Movements, said that Poland’s cautionary attitude to sex education was the reason why the country had a very low HIV, AIDS, abortion and teenage pregnancy rate. Mr Zięba said that World Health Organisation recommendations for sex education standards were ‘very dangerous’ for young people.

He added: “You should defend what is currently in Polish schools. Of course, the current programme should improve , because it has some shortcomings , but we cannot allow it to enter the type of sex education has been based on promoting free sexual attitudes and widespread access to contraception.”

On the other hand, there are organisations such as Ponton, which gives lectures on contraception, preventing sexually transmitted diseases, and individual rights.

Ponton’s website says: “We know that the situation of young people often becomes completely hopeless because of lack of information. Girls write about unwanted pregnancies, violence… reliable sex education in schools could prevent many dramas such as unplanned teenage pregnancies.”

On such an emotive issue, it is no surprise that the Polish language media have found much headline fodder. Reacting to the Ministry of Education’s consultation, Gazeta Wyborcza reported in early December that ‘half of the class will be taught how to apply a condom, and the other half, that contraception is a sin’.

But a spokesperson for the ministry told Inside-Poland.com: “The ministry has not yet taken a decision on sex education in schools. Work on the model of sex education will start by examining…  where young people derive knowledge about sex , how this knowledge should be supplemented, and from where young people want to draw this knowledge.”

From the point of view of the World Health Organisation, sex education should follow certain guidelines in Poland and elsewhere in Europe.

Writing about the guidelines, Dr Gunta Lazdane, WHO’s regional advisor on sexual and reproductive health, said emphasis on biological aspects of sex education was not sufficient.

Dr Lazdane added: “What we need is a new approach to sexuality education. This is what new guidelines are all about. They place facts in the broader context of values, knowledge and life skills and so forth, so that the health-related aspects can be understood in the broadest terms.”

The WHO guidelines are based on a positive interpretation of sexuality, as a part of physical and mental health. HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancies and sexual violence are covered, and the guidelines focus on individual rights and responsibilities towards others.