What a difference five years makes! After shelving the original program back in 2010, Ontario is finally ready to implement its updated sexual health education curriculum, and it may just be one of the most progressive in the country.
The redesign, which was sorely needed to replace a curriculum that had not seen significant changes since 1998, was put on hold by then premier Dalton McGuinty after some groups and parents complained. They objected to some of the content of the program including discussions of masturbation at the elementary school level, explanations of the meaning of homosexuality and lessons about puberty for Grade 6 and Grade 7 students. Rather than supporting the educators who wrote the program based on nationally recognized standards and best practices for teaching sexual health, McGuinty gave in to the demands of those who complained. He agreed to launch an investigation into the concerns and suggestions of parents and then look into revisions before putting the program in place.
The Ontario Ministry of Education announced recently that it has completed that process, reviewed and revised the curriculum, and is ready to implement it for the coming school year. Even better news is that this revision might go farther than the original towards providing the kinds of sexual health information children and young adults need in the new millennium. The current premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, confirmed last month that the revamped program now includes lessons on healthy relationships and consent. It will be one of the first in Canada to do so. The topic is not specifically addressed in classrooms in Alberta right now. In fact, the Edmonton Public School Board has just approved a motion to ask Alberta Education to include lessons on the meaning of consent in the sexual health curriculum, which is currently under review.
Ontario’s new program will also include up-to-date and expanded lessons on Internet safety, harassment and cyberbullying. All of this is set to poise the province, which seemed to be positioning itself firmly in the dark ages only five years ago, as our country’s leader in progressive sexual health education.
When a few hundred protesters gathered outside the Ontario legislature last week bearing signs with slogans like “math not masturbation, science not sex,” I was worried that we would see a repeat of 2010. There are some powerful people in Ontario who are still vehemently opposed to comprehensive sexual health education. But the premier seems to be standing firm in the face of the opposition. When questioned by conservative MP Monte McNaughton as to why she was qualified to decide what constitutes appropriate sex education, she replied that she is a mother, a former student council chair, has a master’s degree in education and is a former minister of education. She asked, what, of those things, disqualifies her from making this decision. It looks like Ontario students are finally going to get the current, quality sex education they have been waiting for for more than 17 years. V
Brenda Kerber is a sexual health educator who has worked with local not-for-profits since 1995. She is the owner of the Edmonton-based, sex-positive adult toy boutique the Traveling Tickle Trunk.