Kathleen Wynne – Ontario’s 25th Premier, and the first woman to serve in that role. Image Source: The Forum Poll
Ontario’s revamped sex-ed curriculum is quickly shaping up to be one of the most discussed topics of the past many months as we get closer to September. This new curriculum has been quite a conversation starter, as Premier Kathleen Wynne refused to back down even after protests by some parents against the proposed lessons plans. This is the first major revision to the curriculum since the 1998—possibly the most up-to-date in all of Canada—and it’s taking a very liberal, revolutionary standpoint on educating children about gender, sex, and health.
The new curriculum is an immense change to the out-dated one kids have been learning for more than a decade, and has been altered to suit the modernity of current and future generations. One of the biggest differences is that it starts in Grade 1 rather than Grade 5, introducing kids to concepts much earlier.
Here’s a quick break down of what kids will learn from September 2015 onwards:
- Grade 1 – Proper names for body parts
- Grade 2 – Stages of human growth; broad idea of consent and that “no means no”
- Grade 3 – Gender identity and accepting differences (ex. having same-sex parents)
- Grade 4 – Puberty (physical changes)
- Grade 5 – Puberty (scientific and emotional changes); sexual orientation
- Grade 6 – Stereotypes (gender, sexual orientation, race, etc.); masturbation as a normal activity (but they will not be taught how)
- Grade 7 – Consent; types of sex and sexual health (STIs); cyberbullying and sexting
- Grade 8 – Consent; contraception and condoms; healthy relationships
Most notable in this new plan is the emphasis on accepting and understanding the ideas of gender identity, sexual orientation, and consent. Teaching these to kids from a young age fosters an environment where all children, as they grow and develop their identity, can feel safe. The notion of consent, on the other hand, is an excellent way to accompany the rape culture that continues to permeate our media.
Unfortunately, an act of change such as this is not without its protestors, though a lot of it comes from either a misinformation of the proposed curriculum or a religious standpoint. Premier Kathleen Wynne and the Ontario government have made efforts to educate parents via campaigns, meetings, and online material after a series of rumours circulated around the province. But parents continue to protest and demand that the curriculum be shelved once more, just as it was done in 201 when Wynne first suggested it.
Aside from religious opposition, many parents also feel that kids will be taught things that aren’t age-appropriate. However, it’s vital to consider how much children know by the time they’re ready to enter high school, which is especially true for this age of technology that we live in. The first graders starting in September will most likely already be familiar with the Internet and know how to access platforms like Youtube from smartphones, tablets, or computers. It’s inevitable that as they start school, they’ll become increasingly adept at using technology at a much younger age than previous generations, and therefore be exposed to ideas of gender and sex much earlier. It’s a radical curriculum, as many opposing groups are calling it, but one that is much needed and long overdue.
The Ministry of Education—a democratically elected body of individuals—consulted several professionals and the 4000 chairs of parent councils across Ontario to put the entire curriculum together. For those parents who are unhappy with it, they will have the option to take their child out of the health class, provided that they can educate their children appropriately at home. However, the beauty of this new plan is that finally, parents and children will know exactly what will be taught, and when. The old curriculum left too much to the teacher’s discretion; they could teach whatever wanted, whether it was appropriate or not. Now there will be a sense of openness to the entire subject, allowing parents to supplement their child’s health education. If parents find something contradicting their own beliefs, they can teach their children accordingly, but at home. A part of the new lessons is to remind students that they can seek guidance from trusted adults in their lives, including family members, doctors, and religious leaders.
At the end of the day, the government will go forward with this curriculum in September. For those who dispute it, I hope you’ll come to realize the benefits of such a change, but if not, these lessons are still necessary for kids growing up in Canada, where diversity is pretty much the law. More importantly, they’ll grow up in a safe environment where will learn to accept themselves and others for who they are and know that no one can force them into anything they aren’t comfortable with.
This piece was originally published in Affairs Today (May 2015).