Former HCI students want school to suspend sexuality education workshop

Former students of Hwa Chong Institution have started a petition on Wednesday calling for the school to suspend a sexuality education workshop offered by Focus On The Family Singapore. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Former students of Hwa Chong Institution have started a petition on Wednesday calling for the school to suspend a sexuality education workshop offered by Focus On The Family Singapore. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Part of student Agatha Tan's post on Facebook with pictures of a booklet which was given out at a workshop run by Focus On The Family Singapore. -- SCREENGRAB: FACEBOOK
Part of student Agatha Tan's post on Facebook with pictures of a booklet which was given out at a workshop run by Focus On The Family Singapore. -- SCREENGRAB: FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - Former students of Hwa Chong Institution have started a petition on Wednesday calling for the school to suspend a sexuality education workshop offered by Focus On The Family Singapore.

This latest move comes after a current HCI student, 17-year-old Agatha Tan, said in an open letter to her principal, Dr Hon Chiew Weng, that the workshop was "sexist" and promoted gender stereotypes.

Agatha's letter, which she made public on her Facebook page, has been shared more than 2,000 times since she put it up early Tuesday morning.

Ms Irene Oh, 31, one of the organisers of the petition, told The Straits Times that she felt "indignant that students with different opinions are silenced by adults".

"Alumni who are adults themselves need to call this out as unacceptable," said Ms Oh, a software engineer who graduated from Hwa Chong Junior College - HCI's predecessor - in 2001.

She, along with a few other former Hwa Chong students, had penned an online letter on Google Document, addressed to all HCI teachers and principal Dr Hon, calling for the school to immediately suspend the workshop by external vendor Focus On The Family Singapore.

The letter has collected 185 signatures as of 3pm on Wednesday. It was put up online at about 1.30am on Wednesday.

The vendor, a pro-family Christian charity, has been approved by the Education Ministry to run workshops on sexuality and relationship education in schools.

But HCI student Agatha, who had attended its workshop in school on Friday, said the programme perpetuated gender stereotypes.

Referring to a booklet students each received from the vendor, Agatha said it portrayed girls as "emotional", "want security" and want to "look attractive", while boys "need respect"and "don't want a girlfriend that questions their opinions and argues with their decisions all the time".

Focus On The Family Singapore defended its programme, saying it was "not a sexuality education programme".

"It is designed to be a relationship programme to help young people unravel the world of the opposite sex, uncover the truths of love and dating, and reveal what it takes to have healthy and meaningful relationships," said its head of corporate communications, Ms Vicky Ho.

A HCI spokesman said the programme aimed to educate students "on healthy relationships".

The school had provided students with information of the programme and had given students and parents a choice to opt out of the workshop, the HCI spokesman said.

She added that the school has contacted Ms Tan, and will be gathering feedback from other students.