Disinformation growing around RSE

The mis- and dis-information around RSE is increasing online, according to a Ministry of Education document.

Relationships and sexuality education (RSE) is the target of mis- and dis-information being disseminated online, says the Ministry of Education.  

Disinformation campaigns – the practice of deliberately spreading false information – on RSE include fake Ministry of Education posts using ministry colours and logos.  

Read the latest print edition of School News HERE 

One case of a fake ministry post on social media included disinformation on “pronoun name-tag day” and said 5-year-olds would be made to “question their own gender”.  

There is speculation that dis- and misinformation is being driven by the coalition government’s promise to remove and replace RSE guidelines in schools. Labour education spokesperson Jan Tinetti said the current discussion on RSE is an “imported culture war” and NZEI Te Riu Roa president Mark Potter says the growing focus on RSE is rooted in “very conspiracy-based thinking… Some very untrue statements are being made about what children are being taught.”  

According to a ministry briefing to Education Minister Erica Stanford in December 2023 on RSE, released under OIA, “the ministry has seen an intensifcation and proliferation of misinformation and disinformation relating to RSE and the ministry’s guidance over the past year. 

“The ministry is aware of several cases of doctored images which use ministry logos and colours that have been widely shared on social media. 

“Many of these contain information that is factually inaccurate and designed to provoke anger or disapproval.”  

Speaking to Newstalk ZB, the Ministry of Education has said that these cases of mis- and disinformation were hard to quantify. 

Jan Tinetti, Labour’s education spokesperson, has said that the disinformation campaigns had a “sinister agenda” and said the government’s review of RSE guidelines legitimised the mis- and disinformation.  

“At the time when that came out in the coalition agreement, I said that’s dangerous close to a conspiracy theory.” 

Stanford said that the government’s review and replacement of RSE guidelines would include some of the current material.  

“There is important context in the current guidelines that is critical to retain, such as consent and healthy relationships.”  

Some parts of the current RSE guidelines will be retained, like information on healthy relationships. Image by Hannah Busing on Unsplash.

Stanford noted that the guidelines weren’t compulsory and intended as a guide for schools.  

“The legal requirements for school boards are set out in the Education and Training Act 2020 and require schools to consult with their community every two years on their health curriculum. This includes what they incorporate under RSE.”  

There is no guidance on what this consultation should look like.  

MoE curriculum centre hautū (leader) Ellen MacGregor-Reid said consultation processes were a good resource for parents and caregivers to understand their school’s RSE programme and voice their views.  

“Parents and caregivers can also write to the school to withdraw their young person from all or any part of RSE.”  

MacGregor-Reid said communication between schools and whānau could help dispel misinformation. 

No legal action has been taken against those spreading mis- or dis-information about the Ministry of Education.

Naomii Seah

Naomii Seah is a writer and journalist from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. She has been covering education in New Zealand since 2022.
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