Ontario’s new sex education curriculum is a much needed step forward

Seventeen years have passed since Ontario’s sex education curriculum was last updated. Within that time, same-sex marriage became legal in Canada in 2005, the rules around consent were further defined, and children as young as three began using Google search engines and sending digital messages.

Yet, Ontario’s sex education curriculum has lagged behind our societal advances so far that it is currently the most outdated educational material in Canada. So, the provincial government’s Feb. 23 announcement of a curriculum overhaul was a necessary and welcomed one.

While critics argue that children are too young to understand the complicated sexual relations of today, the reality is that Ontario’s children and youth have been left unprepared for far too long.

Under the new curriculum, in September 2015 children in grades one, two and three will learn about body parts, human development and healthy relationships (including heterosexual and homosexual relationships). These lessons are extremely important, as children are becoming exposed to these concepts earlier in life than previous generations, which is primarily due to social and digital advances. Therefore, properly educating children on these subjects will not only keep them safe, but will also foster a more inclusive society.

For instance, same-sex marriage is legal in Canada, and a number of communities and educational facilities across Ontario have safe spaces for LGBTQ youth. However, Ontario’s children and youth do not learn about homosexual relationships under the current sex education curriculum. This sends a contradictory message to younger generations that could lead to exclusion and self-doubt.

The new curriculum will have children in grades four, five and six learning about puberty, reproduction, masturbation, and the physical and emotional changes of adolescence. In addition, these grades will also learn about in-person and online consent, where ‘no means no’ physically and digitally.

Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd are just two of the many cases of sex-related cyber bullying that have made news headlines in recent years. In a generation where the word ‘sexting’ has become prominent, children need to be better prepared for a new world of sexual relationship challenges. Therefore, the new curriculum’s inclusion of a digital consent unit is essential to the health and safety of children and youth today.

Finally, in the new curriculum grades seven, eight and beyond will learn about delaying intercourse, sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, various forms of intercourse (vaginal, anal and oral), and gender identification (male, female, transgendered and transsexual). Transgendered and transsexual youth have been left out of the sex education curriculum for far too long, which is unjust. 2015 holds hope for a more inclusive educational system in Ontario, and safer and more accepting educational facilities for all.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Education Minister Liz Sandals are adamant that the new curriculum is the final version and is here to stay. When planning the curriculum, the government engaged various parents, teachers, professionals, children and religious leaders, which won them wide support.

Despite the support, hard-right Tory supporters protested outside of Queens Park on Feb. 24 claiming further consultation should have been sought. But, there is only so much consultation a government can do when a new, more inclusive curriculum is needed right now, not in another seventeen years.

The Ministry of Education deserves kudos for the community consultations and the creation of a comprehensive new curriculum. The new curriculum is fair and forward thinking, and it will aid in the emergence of informed and safe young adults.

There is nothing listed in Ontario’s new sex education curriculum that a child could not Google search. Therefore, hard-right supporters should bow down or stay behind in the dust.

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