New approach to sex ed
TheStar.com – Opinion/editorial – New approach to sex ed
December 29, 2008
Thankfully, it’s a rare and shocking event when a student is sexually assaulted in a school.
But what about the more common teenage experiences of sexual harassment, homophobia and dating violence outside our schools? Is there a role for teachers to make sure our youth aren’t just respected and safe inside school walls but also prepared for what faces them in broader society? Yes, the province has answered.
The provincial government plans to update the school curriculum to ensure students get more detailed lessons – and in earlier grades – about healthy relationships and sexual health.
The changes stem from recommendations released earlier this month by the province’s Safe Schools Panel, chaired by Guelph MPP Liz Sandals, a past president of the Ontario Public School Boards Association. The panel had been asked to report on ways to combat sexual harassment and violence in schools after an incident of sexual assault in a Toronto high school.
Recognizing that what happens in a school is just a small part of what students face in their lives, the panel decided to go farther.
Some of the changes will be controversial, particularly plans to include more detailed sexual health education in earlier grades. But they make sense.
Starting in Grade 6, students will learn about gender stereotypes and homophobia. Grade 7s will learn of sexually transmitted diseases and prevention measures; Grade 8s, sexual identity and dating violence; and Grade 9s, gender-based violence, sexual harassment and more detail about previously covered issues.
Some will be tempted to say students don’t need to know about these subjects until they’re older. But that objection flies in the face of what young people are experiencing and what studies are telling us.
The physical and health education course, where this content is now covered, is only compulsory until Grade 9. After that, it’s an option – one that many students don’t take. So, waiting to cover a subject until Grade 10 means that many students will never get that lesson.
The panel also found that teachers were often not bothering to teach the sexual-health material because it made them uncomfortable.
Recognizing this, the province plans to make the lessons more comfortable for teachers in various ways.
The lessons will be made more specific so that teachers aren’t left wondering what they’re supposed to say. And more use will be made of public health workers, who have experience with these subjects.
There’s also time for everyone, from parents to teachers, to get comfortable with this idea. The changes are being added to an existing curriculum review and will take effect in elementary schools in 2010 and in high schools in 2011.
“None of this is easy,” Sandals says.
She’s right. That’s why it’s impressive that the province is willing to take it on. It can only be beneficial for us all if young people learn to deal with these difficult issues before it is too late.