Only about 60 percent of elementary and junior high schools offer a "life skills" course that includes sex education, and the subject is not taught at all in high schools, according to a Knesset Research Center report. Schools are not required to teach the course.

The report, which was presented yesterday at a meeting of the Knesset Committee on the Rights of the Child, raises questions as to how schools deal with sexual assault - questions heightened by the gang rapes that have come to light in recent weeks.

Committee chairman Danny Danon (Likud) said at the end of the meeting that he viewed the Education Ministry as "responsible for the case of the rape of the girl that was reported last week." The ministry said Danon's remark was "unworthy of response."

But Efrat Oppenheimer, educational coordinator of Tel Aviv's Sexual Assault Crisis Center, agreed that the ministry needed to do more. "The Education Ministry does not give the needed funding to its psychological service to ensure that work on the issue of sexual assault is done properly, and does not take into account the fact that teachers lack the ability to discuss these issues," she said.

Along with sex education, the "life skills" program also includes issues like violence, alcohol, drugs and peer pressure. The elementary schools that teach the program devote one hour weekly to it, while in junior high schools, the subject is taught during homeroom.

But the research center's report noted that sex education is not always part of the "life skills" program, as parents or others sometimes "exert pressure not to deal with certain issues, like sexual identity."

As for high schools, the report states that when sex education is broached, it is often "in response a specific event."

The ministry's sex education unit, according to the report, does not monitor "the extent to which the subject is taught or the type or content of lessons."

Oppenheimer said the rationale behind the "life skills" program is correct, but follow-up to ensure implementation is lacking. Even where the program is taught, she said, the teachers are not always able to deal with issues like sexual assault.

The report noted that research carried out a few years ago by Dr. Ronny Shtarkshall, of Hebrew University's School of Public Health, found that about one quarter of students said they had received no sex education in the previous three years, and another quarter said they had at most two hours on the subject.