Ontario releases updated Health and Physical Education curriculum

TORONTO STAR/Rene Johnston

TORONTO STAR/Rene Johnston

The new curriculum replaces the outdated 1998 version, now more than 17-years-old

On February 23, Ontario’s Ministry of Education released its updated and controversial Health and Physical Education curriculum.

The new version will replace the 1998 program and is slated to take effect next fall.
Much of the controversy and debate surrounds the appropriateness of teaching certain subjects to children about sex and sexuality, such as gender identity, homosexuality, and practicing safe sex.

On the ministry’s website, the government has provided parental guides and other material outlining what the curriculum will be teaching.

“We are updating the curriculum to ensure the safety and health of our student,” said Liz Sandals, Ontario’s Minister of Education.

“Schools and parents both play an essential and complementary role in supporting student learning – including learning about human development and sexual health.”

The Ministry says the new curriculum “will reflect [the] health, safety and well-being realities faced by today’s students”.

It will also include new subjects such as how students can maintain healthy relationships, understanding consent, being aware of mental health issues, and knowing the risks associated with the internet and ‘sexting’ on mobile phones, the curriculum’s key platform.

“We are listening to parents. That is why we are working with education partners to develop a number of resources for parents and educators about the curriculum and about issues impacting today’s children youth,” said Sandals.

The online resources include a basic outline of the whole curriculum and two separate guides on what students will learn about human development and sexuality between grades 1-6 and 7-12. Two short reference sheets are also available that detail the curriculum’s focus on internet safety and sexting.

Although supporters and detractors are sharply divided over the new curriculum, those in favour believe the update is necessary for the province.

Alex McKay, the executive director of The Sex Information and Education Council of Canada, says “having access to relevant, up-to-date, and developmentally appropriate sexual health education in the schools is a key factor in determining the sexual and reproductive health of young people in Ontario”.

“The new curriculum will help students gain vital knowledge and skills and lay the groundwork for their lifelong health and well-being. We look forward to working with the Ministry and others to build on this solid foundation,” said Larry Stinson, president of the Ontario Public Health Association.

Students in grades 1-3 will learn about basic anatomy and how the human body works. This will include topics such as hygiene and oral health, physical and well-being.

They will also be taught “skills for healthy relationships with peers and families” and “their social and emotional health”.

Students in grades 4-6 will be introduced to the topic of puberty and the affects it has on human development.

This will cover its physical and emotional changes and the stresses it can have on a young person’s mind and body. The ministry says at this stage students will begin learning about reproduction and sexual identity.

Grades 7-12 will be taught the fundamentals of practicing safe sex. They will learn about avoiding and delaying sexual activity, how to prevent sexually transmitted infections, and how to prevent pregnancy.

Students will also learn at this point in the curriculum how the internet and media can influence sexuality but particular focus will be given to its inherent dangers, such as online bullying and sexting.

The ministry says with this new curriculum students will have access to “sources of support and information related to sexual health such as public health services, community health agencies, [and] reliable and accurate websites”.

Nearly 4,000 parents were surveyed by the Ontario government in preparing the new curriculum, one from every elementary school in the province. The ministry also surveyed the opinions of numerous interest groups, religious organizations, and health and education officials.

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