Focus on the Family defends relationship workshop, says most students rated it well

SINGAPORE - Focus on the Family Singapore has issued a stout defence of its relationship workshop, saying it has received positive feedback from most of the students attending the programme since it was launched last year.

The Christian charity also said that its programme did not carry any religious content and is not meant to proselytize or share the faith and beliefs.

In a statement posted on its website on Friday afternoon, the organisation said that the programme has been attended by 14,000 students across 13 schools.

More than 85 per cent of the students polled had rated it as "Very Good/Good" while 89 per cent of students gave the overall presentation of our facilitators as "Very Good/Good". It did not say how many students had actually been surveyed.

In Hwa Chong alone, feedback forms collected showed that 73 per cent of Hwa Chong students rated the workshop positively, while 87.7 per cent of them gave the facilitators positive ratings, said the charity's chief executive officer, Mrs Joanna Koh-Hoe.

Focus on the Family Singapore's relationship workshop had come under scrutiny this week, after Hwa Chong Institution student Agatha Tan criticised it for being sexist and perpetuating gender stereotypes in a letter that has since gone viral on social media. Agatha attended the workshop in school last Friday. The students were split into 10 batches and sat through the same workshop under different facilitators.

Agatha had taken issue with a booklet given out to all students, which had lines such as "guys are all out for one thing", and girls "need to feel loved".

Said Mrs Koh-Hoe: "It's unfortunate that what was meant to be a light-hearted workshop to engage students was taken out of context and misinterpreted."

She added that the particular section of the booklet Agatha had taken issue with was meant to "help participants understand more about the opposite sex, so they are better equipped to communicate and interact with them."

Hwa Chong students had also rated that part as the most helpful section of the workshop, she said.

Hwa Chong principal, Dr Hon Chiew Weng, conducted a review of the programme following Agatha's letter. He said findings showed that the facilitators who led Agatha's group were "ineffective" as they could not address students' concerns satisfactorily.

Acknowledging that the workshop is not perfect, Mrs Koh-Hoe said "there is always room for improvement."

"Our facilitators' efforts to stay on track may have been misunderstood as imposing certain views and that the facilitator is unconcerned with students' questions."

The organisation, she added, recognises that "values-based content will never achieve full consensus", added Mrs Koh-Hoe. The group has offered to talk to Hwa Chong students who have strong concerns about the workshop.

While Focus on the Family Singapore is a pro-family Christian charity, Mrs Koh-Hoe said the relationship workshop was developed to "ensure it carries no religious content".

"As with other community programmes conducted by faith-based organizations, there is also no attempt to proselytize or share the faith and beliefs," she said.

"At the heart of it, we adhere that the relationship principles and values the programme intends to promote remain true and are still helpful to our youth today for building healthy relationships with a committed and thriving lifelong marriage in mind."

leepearl@sph.com.sg