Friday, August 22, 2014

How British teachers could be pressuring teens into having sex

Sex ed lessons at school are, generally, not all we hope for. As a young teen, I remember being desperate to be told everything about sex – from an official explanation of the ‘bases’ to when you should ‘go all the way’. My friends couldn’t wait to discuss it, in detail.

But, when it came down it, the classes were pretty dull. They focused on the biology (boring) and, even though we got to play with condoms, we never really got to ask those burning questions about 'Doing It'.

In fact, for those of us who hadn’t had sex, it was kind of awkward. The teachers talked about 16 being the age of consent and gave advice on what to do once we were legally having sex. The only problem? This wasn’t on the cards.

Our teachers didn't really talk about what to do if you weren't having sex. That didn't seem to be the point. It meant that when we did turn sweet 16, we wondered whether we should now be having sex. After all, the girls in the videos we were shown were doing it with their boyfriends. In fact, why didn’t we have boyfriends that we could lose our virginities too? Was there something wrong with us?

Those sexual pressures were different to the ones we experienced from our peers, because they came from our teachers. Adults. People in authority who, frankly, made us feel like we should be having sex.

I doubt they meant to do this, or had any idea what was going on in our heads. But it was an unfortunate side-effect of my sex education classes.

It’s why I wasn’t at all surprised to read a new study that shows two thirds of British teens believe people today are “too casual” about sex and relationships. Many blame adults for failing to do enough to discourage them from rushing into sex.

One 18-year-old girl said: “I always felt pressured by teachers, like, 'sex is normal, just be safe OK' - when actually I wasn't interested in having sex at the time and was happy to wait for the right person. I don't think sex should be taught as 'the norm'. I think people should be made to feel comfortable and teachers should say, 'you should wait, the law states 16, don't be pressured’.”

Simon Blake, chief executive of sexual health charity Brook, says that teens constantly feel this pressure. “What we do know is that young people often believe everyone else is doing it and think they need to as well, when in fact lots of people aren’t having sex,” he says. “It’s a really important part of sex education that they’re told most people under 16 don’t have sex.”

It means that even though a lot of teens aren’t having casual sex, or any kind of sex at all, they feel like everyone else is. And they're often getting this message from their peers and the adults in their lives, too.

Dr Rachel Andrew, a clinical psychologist who specialises in teenagers, says that there's a stereotypical image of teens having sex as soon as they turn 16, hooking up at parties and even having sex after drinking. “I think that’s almost an image that we have bought into as adults, [thinking] it’s more commonplace than it is,” she explains.

“I see teens who feel they don’t fit in because they’re referencing themselves against those stereotypes. Because they don't view sex casually, they may think 'there’s something wrong with me' or that they’re not popular, or particularly sociable, or attractive. They’re not leading the lifestyle that a lot of adults think they’re leading - which they then think they should be leading.”

She says that the biggest problem is the failure on adults’ parts to talk honesty and openly about sex. At the moment, teens are being fed behavioural stereotypes via TV, film and even the opinions of neighbours and relatives. You just have to turn on the TV post 9pm and you’ll see causal sex being talked about, well, casually on every sitcom and drama going.

Without adults to counteract these opinions, and explaining that sex doesn’t have to be casual, teens can pick up the wrong messages. It’s something that was prevalent in my school. After having our disappointing sex ed lessons, we’d then go home and watch shows like Skins - where teens were having drunken sex, taking drugs and partying. We weren’t doing that. But it made us feel like that's what 'normal' teenagers did.
Porn is there - accept it

Blake says adults should do more to help: “I think sometimes we’re ambivalent about [sex] as adults. We’re not clear [with young people] that we want them to have relationships that are healthy for them. In the absence of our willingness to have those conversations, young people get the soap opera approach and playground messages.

“Isn’t it sad that, in 2014, we’re not in a position to say to young people: this is really important. In some ways we focus on the wrong bits of debate like, is porn good or bad? But it’s there. We want them to know it’s not real life.”

But, Dr Andrew points out, adults don’t always know what to say. “I think if we’re honest about it, as parents or teachers or professionals, we can be unsure about what to talk to teens about,” she says.

“Whether we should be giving our views or a 'party line'. I often think that message is muddled, particularly for teachers. You can see how teachers end up in a role where it’s easier to keep to basics and to be very aware that many teens have underage sex. You can see how teens within this study might be picking up on a message from adults that it’s OK to have sex when you’re 16 and there’s nothing more to it.”

That’s what it comes back down to – sex ed classes. Teens are always going to experience these sexual expectations whether they come from peers, the TV or adults. But the one place they shouldn’t be feeling pressured is during sex ed classes at school.

Blake thinks the best way to improve the situation, is to make sure the classes don’t just stick to the basics - but go into feelings and relationships. This is how adults can help teens – by not just discussing sex as a lone topic, but by talking about how it fits into everyday life and particularly the lives of those teens in the room. Who might not be thinking about having sex in the near future whatsoever.

It would have been amazing if our teachers had explained this definitely wasn’t the case, as well as pointed out the drawbacks of rushing into sex.

Sadly, we missed out. But I see no reason why today's teens should. After all, with social media, sexting, slut-shaming and porn they’re under more pressures than we ever were.


Private schools should charge foreign students higher fees, college founder claims

Private schools should charge foreign pupils higher fees than children from Britain, a college founder has claimed.

Parents from overseas should be asked to pay more to send their offspring to Britain’s private schools to prevent British families being priced out of the market, Alexander Nikitich, who set up the Carfax Tutorial Establishment.

The education entrepreneur, who is originally from Russia, says private schools should follow the model used by universities, which levy higher charges at international students.

“It seems wrong that billionaires from Russia and the Far East are paying the same as British dentists, doctors and solicitors who are seeing their incomes plummet in real terms,” Mr Nikitich told the London Evening Standard.

A number of schools ask wealthy foreign parents for donations and offer bursaries and scholarships to British children but this does not go far enough, said Mr Nikitich, who called for an “open and transparent” approach.

“There are very wealthy families who will make significant donations and some schools are being somewhat spoiled by this, and we sometimes get a sense that if you come from particular countries it is difficult to get in without a donation,” he said.

His college, based in Oxford, charges British students £9,910 per subjects while those from abroad pay £11,900.

Extra one-on-one lessons cost British pupils £42 per hour and are £78 per cent for foreign students.

Mr Nikitich argues that wealth foreigners are willing pay higher prices because they place a high value on a British education.

“It seems strange that foreign parents, who value the British independent school sector so highly, aren’t making more of a financial contribution to it,” he said.

“If they paid higher fees, schools could afford to help pupils from less well-off British homes for whom the cost is a real struggle

“Private schools overseas are entirely open about charging more to foreign students. It seems foolish for it to be a problem in England.

“In the UK is it a long-established principle that overseas students pay more in university tuition fees than ‘home’ students. ‘Why cannot the same principle be applied to public school pupils?”

The popularity of Britain’s private schools overseas is clear from the rising number of foreigners with the number of pupils arriving from Russia up by more than a quarter last year, while there was a 16 per cent increase in students from Nigeria and five per cent rise in Chinese admissions.

Mr Nikitich, whose company, the Carfax Education Group, runs colleges, tutor agencies, schools and university consultancies in Britain and overseas, made his comments after a study found private education is becoming “increasingly unaffordable” for the British middle-classes due to a four-fold rise in school fees in little over 20 years.

The rise in private school fees has outpaced wage increased by so much that such establishments are becoming unaffordable for all but the super-rich, the report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research for stockbroker Killik & Co concluded.

Janette Wallis, senior editor of The Good Schools Guide, said schools were “increasingly aware that if they do not want to end up with their schools stripped of British children they need to rein in fee increases”.


Back-to-School Tuition Woes Highlight Bigger Education Problems

Most American families with students preparing to attend college worry how they can possibly pay the freight. Rightly so. College tuitions have been rising steadily by 3-4% annually since the Pell Grant was re-engineered by Jimmy Carter in 1978. Originally a program to assist low-income families with college expenses, Carter opened it to middle-class families as well. Now, federal aid to college is essentially an entitlement.

The College Board reports that a “moderate” college budget for an in-state public college for the 2013–2014 academic year averaged $22,826. A moderate budget at a private college averaged $44,750. Of course, these figures represent more than tuition, but they provide a clear picture of what the prospective college student faces. Costs can be reduced if a student is willing to stay at home, attend a nearby state school, take a full load of classes and work part-time during the summer – or better, all year. In that case, the cost drops to about $9,000 for in-state public schools, most of which can be paid for with the student’s earnings. Best of all, he or she won’t be shouldering a massive burden of debt for the next 20 years.

The debt aspect of the issue is perhaps the most difficult to understand. We know there are exceptions, but parents love their children. They’ve sacrificed 18 years to help them mature sufficiently enough to handle the adult world. College is hardly the adult world, but once school’s over, it’s at hand. That’s the very time in their lives when they should be as unencumbered as possible, to be able to direct their lives as they think best, and, yet, every year millions of parents send their child off to school knowing that when it’s completed, there’s an ugly reality to face. It almost seems like a perverse game: Get them excited about earning a degree and then hit them with the bill when it’s finished.

The federal aid to college racket – that’s what it’s become – has many of the earmarks of failed federal programs. While many students do indeed graduate, most will be making payments on their loans for years. Payments are deferred while students are in college, but once grads pass the golden doors, the first payment is due. And repayment plans can vary tremendously, depending on the program used to obtain the money as well as the actual lender. Whether the grad’s employed or unemployed, the bill comes due every month, and the term can last from 10 to 25 years. The word “term” is most apropos, for the debt is much like a prison sentence.

Some students are their own worst enemies. The dropout rate is rising, and while it’s doubtful the IRS will ever chase them down for what they owe, the system reinforces the negative values of ignoring responsibilities. At the very least, grants should be awarded only to students with a real track record of success. However, banks have a federal gun at their collective heads to lend freely, so without major reform, injudicious lending practices will continue driving the federal loan machine.

This week Barack Obama gave his weekly address on his plans to help ever more young people attend college. Part of that plan involves increased financial aid. Yet he says, “[A]s long as college costs keep rising, we can’t just keep throwing money at the problem.” College costs are rising because the federal government keeps throwing money at the problem.

As with any federally dispersed money, corruption – at least moral corruption – is part of the game. Universities in the 1950s were modest in appearance and earnest in academic goals. By comparison, the modern mega-versity – with its multitude of “schools,” monumental buildings that cover a city block, luxurious multi-gender dormitories, plush student lounges and gigantic sports facilities – resembles more a Roman complex honoring the gods than a place of quiet study, debate and learning.

Furthermore, as more people go to college, the standards fall lower. Many studies have shown that today’s graduates know far less than those of a generation ago. That’s little wonder when courses include The Science of Superheroes instead of useful information. Meanwhile, the grade awarded most frequently in college is “A.” That should strike anyone as wrong.

In 1950, only a small percentage of the population went to college. We don’t advocate a return to that time, but, on the other hand, making college a virtual life requirement from birth is excessive. Universities once had strict requirements for admission. Today they admit people without ninth grade skills, setting them up for failure. People with a desire to learn and find a career path right for them should go to community or technical college. Perhaps one of the key answers to the problem of rising tuition is to rethink the popularity of college. All men are created equal, just not guaranteed equal results.


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