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    Oct 10, 2014

    Hwa Chong: Workshop staff 'ineffective'

    THE facilitators of the controversial relationship workshop conducted at Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) were "ineffective" and were not able to address objections raised by the students.

    This was the conclusion of an internal investigation of the programme by the school, which is now planning to design its own workshops.

    In a circular sent to all students and teachers yesterday, HCI principal Hon Chiew Weng said the male facilitator, in particular, "was not able to address (students') concerns satisfactorily" when they had objected to various viewpoints.

    The workshop had come under scrutiny when 17-year-old Hwa Chong student Agatha Tan criticised it in an open letter to her principal. She had attended the workshop in school last Friday, and said a booklet that was distributed to the students had emphasised and enforced gender stereotypes.

    The workshop was run by external vendor Focus on the Family Singapore, a pro-family Christian charity, which said the workshop aims to help young people understand the opposite sex. The charity is appointed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) to conduct relationship workshops in schools.

    The workshop, which started in 2009, will conclude by the end of the year.

    Its facilitators are required to have experience working with young people, and have to attend a three-day training session conducted by Focus on the Family Singapore.

    In his note, Dr Hon acknowledged that the booklet was a "source of unhappiness" among students.

    "Some of the contents were deemed as objectionable. As it was not referred to frequently during the workshop, the participant felt that it was unnecessary to distribute the booklet," he wrote.

    Dr Hon said the school recognises that "the success of any talk or workshop depends to a large extent on the quality of the speaker or facilitator".

    He was "disappointed" that the vendor had sent someone who was unable to address the concerns of the students. The school had engaged Focus on the Family Singapore previously and students had given positive feedback.

    "One lesson we can learn from this episode is that even if a programme is approved by both MSF and Ministry of Education, things can go wrong," said Dr Hon.

    "We have to depend on ourselves to ensure the quality of our programmes."

    Wwhen contacted yesterday for a response, Focus on the Family said it would issue a statement later today.

    Meanwhile, a Jurong Junior College student has publicly defended the same workshop after attending it on Tuesday, calling it "the most relevant, informative and useful relationship workshop" she has attended in her school years.

    In a public Facebook note, student Tessa Ho said the key message the trainers were driving at was "a broader perspective on how the two genders think differently and that clear communication is vital to maintaining a healthy relationship".