MOE: Relationship workshop by Focus on the Family Singapore to cease by end-2014

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 - The Ministry of Education (MOE) said that a relationship programme by Focus on the Family Singapore, a pro-family Christian charity, will "cease its run by end-2014", without giving any reasons.

In a statement late on Wednesday, an MOE spokesman said the workshop on relationships does not fall under the ministry's sexuality education programme, even though Focus on the Family Singapore has been approved by MOE to run sexuality education programmes in school.

In this case, however, the course was about healthy relationships, not sex education. Instead, the charity had been appointed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, MOE clarified.

Both the ministries and the school are looking into the feedback received.

The programme has come under fire for being sexist and for perpetuating gender stereotypes, after Agatha Tan, a 17-year-old Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) student, wrote a letter to her principal to criticise the workshop.

She had attended the programme - mandatory for all first-year HCI students unless they choose to opt out - in school last Friday.

In the letter, Agatha took issue with a booklet the workshop facilitators handed out to students, which had statements: "A guy can't not want to look. Even decent guys in great dating and marriage relationships struggle with a desire to visually linger on and fantasise about the female body".

The booklet portrayed girls as "emotional", "want security" and needing to "look attractive", while boys "needed respect" and "didn't want a girlfriend that questions their opinions and argues with their decisions all the time".

"From merely glancing through this booklet, I learned a simple yet important lesson: that bigotry is very much alive and it was naive of me to think I could be safe from it even in school," she wrote in the letter, which has been shared more than 2,000 since she made it public on Tuesday.

Agatha's letter spurred former Hwa Chong students into action. Software engineer Irene Oh, 31, who graduated from Hwa Chong Junior College in 2001, has started a petition with other Hwa Chong alumni, calling on the school to suspend the workshop immediately.

The letter has collected more than 300 signatures from people claiming to be past and present Hwa Chong students as of 9pm on Wednesday.