The More You Know: Ontario's New Sex Education Curriculum

Tuesday, September 8th marked the first day of school for thousands of young children in Ontario, Canada. Many desks on the first day of school, however, remained empty. Families have decided to boycott school and keep their kids at home this September due to Ontario’s updated sexual education curriculum. Controversial since its unveiling in early 2015, the new programme will be implemented for the first time in schools this fall. The new curriculum’s intent is to give students a broad understanding of sexual health. Let’s get down to brass tacks: what is so different about the updated curriculum?

The Differences

This is the first update to Ontario’s sexual education curriculum since 1998. Before this update, Ontario was the only province in Canada that continued to use a curriculum dated before the new millennium. In Ontario’s new sex-ed curriculum, education starts in Grade 1, with teaching students the correct names of body parts. In Grade 2, teachers will introduce the broad concept of consent and being told “no means no.” In Grade 3, gender identity and sexual orientation are discussed - not in an explicit manner - to introduce students to the differences in our society. Puberty is to be taught in Grade 4 instead of Grade 5; sexual intercourse will be taught in Grade 5 instead. Grade 6 concerns masturbation and “gender expression” whereas Grades 7 and 8 will discuss contraception, anal and oral sex, pregnancy prevention, and sexually transmitted infections. Students will also be taught about cyber-bullying and the dangers of sharing sexually explicit messages or pictures ('sexting') online. The inclusion of 'sexting' and online-bullying is a vital one as it continues to afflict teenagers on a global scale. (Read more about the dangers of sexting here.)


Why Strike?

Many parents have expressed concern over whether the content is age appropriate for their children. One must remember however, that this is not a typical high-school sex-ed class. Six and seven year olds are not learning about sexual intercourse or STIs but merely the correct names of body parts they themselves have. Other parents state that the new curriculum goes against their “principles and beliefs.” Parents should of course have a say in when and how their child learns about sexual education, especially if they have strong moral or religious convictions on the subject. Finally, one might assume that parents are striking and keeping children out of school because the curriculum is mandatory. Actually, “parents have the right to withdraw their kids from all or part of the new curriculum if they're uncomfortable with its content.” Why remove your child from all aspects of learning when you can simply take them out of the sex education programme?


Why It Matters

For myself, a resident of Toronto who is also minoring in Education here at McGill, this issue affects me both as a member of society and as a potential future teacher. Ontario is not the only province with a more “up-to-date” sexual education curriculum. This fall, it joins the ranks of Quebec, Saskatchewan, and Nova Scotia who all teach sexual orientation and gender at a young age. The amount of accurate information on sex that young people have access to directly affects their decisions as they grow into young adulthood. Think back to your sexual education in elementary and high school. Was it fulfilling? Did you learn valuable information? Did you feel knowledgeable about your body and your rights? Perhaps if we start the discussion of bodies at an earlier age (when children are asking millions of questions anyway) those later high school classes on sex would be much less awkward. If successfully taught, students will enter the hormone-charged halls of high school and university without gaps in their knowledge. Men and women will know the importance of consent, that “no means no,” and that not all of their classmates will identify as hetero-normative. I am of the opinion that this new curriculum, though it may not sit well with everyone, will help students take better care of themselves when it comes to one of the most important aspects of their health.


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