The new sexual education and health program that is sweeping across Ontario schools definitely seems like something a lot of people care about regardless of age. If you say you don’t care, or that it doesn’t impact you, you’re probably wrong. Maybe you have a younger sibling who’s going to be learning it, or maybe you have a child yourself. The fact of the matter is that one day, you will somehow be affected by the new teachings, so you might as well get informed about it now.
According to the Ontario Ministry of Education, there hasn’t been a new education reform for Health and Physical Education since 1998. Kids in today’s society have been learning the same thing as kids from 18 years ago. How does that seem right? We live in a world much different from what it was then and children learn about things a lot earlier than they used to.
I went to a Catholic school my entire life — for both elementary and high school — so I know from first hand experience that there was an undeniable lack of attention aimed at sex ed and anything covered under that realm. We read from Fully Alive textbooks (which teach about family life and health) each year for about a week in our religion class in elementary and most of those classes were honestly spent laughing at the cartoon diagrams of the human body and the words vagina or penis. High school consisted of one week of health lessons in gym class. On top of that, only one credit of gym is needed to get your secondary diploma, so health isn’t part of a mandatory curriculum.
If I wanted to know something, I found it out through the Internet or by watching movies and T.V. shows. It wasn’t taught in school and my parents never really brought it up.
The new sexual health program begins in grade one and carries all the way to grade 12. Since talk started about what would be taught in early 2015, there has been a lot of tension surrounding the new curriculum and specifically aimed at the fact that a lot of parents think it is way too mature for certain age levels.
Children in grade one are around the age of five or six. At this point, they’ll start learning “to identify body parts by their proper names, including genitalia, about their senses and how they function [and] basic good hygiene habits (e.g. washing your hands, using tissues).” To me, this seems useful and acceptable. They’re old enough to understand. By grade three — seven or eight — children start learning about “visible differences” like skin colour and physical ability, as well as the invisible differences like learning abilities, cultural beliefs, gender identity and family situations; basically how to respect one another.
An important topic that they start to cover early on is puberty. In grade four kids are about eight or nine years old. It’s not uncommon for girls to start their periods around this time, while boys generally take a little bit longer to develop. It’s important for them to know what’s happening in their bodies.
Grade six — age 10/11 — is revolutionary in terms of what is being taught. Personally, when I was in grade six, I remember kids were already getting involved with bad habits such as drugs. Part of the curriculum teaches about cannabis use, as well as other drugs. It also covers topics such as “stereotypes [in relation to homosexuality] and assumptions about gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, culture and abilities,” which are all really important. From a young age, children start to become more and more aware of themselves and what is deemed “acceptable” by their peers. All of the previously mentioned factors can play a large part in how they see themselves.
As the grades progress, teaching about sexual activity is more common. Kids start experimenting and it’s important to keep them safe. It’s hard to get young adolescent to listen when you say “no”. It’s better that they know what’s going on, than not know and if they make a ‘mistake’ it’s not something that is so incredible frowned upon. The curriculum tries to inform teens about their options, because there is always social pressure and there always will be. Teach them about what can happen, what they can contract and what they can do to prevent anything bad from happening. It’s a scary topic for parents but kids are going to find out one way or another, why not make it in a safe, healthy environment?
Mental health is also a topic covered in the later years, which is something I think should actually be discussed sooner. With my own experience, I didn’t really discover my own problems until starting university and it sucked. If I were exposed to the concept earlier, I could have looked for help sooner and things could have been different. A lot of children and young teens show signs of mental illness and it’s better for them to learn about it and understand what’s happening. If they think they are starting to develop a mental illness than to let it fester and get out of hand.
I also understand that parents are still concerned that the curriculum is too explicit for some grades. But I don’t think it really is. I think that a lot of good will come from these lesson plans. Kids will be kids, after all, right? So let them be kids. Let them learn from their mistakes and let them learn in general.
We, the university level students, are the next generation to grow up. Soon we’ll be starting our own lives and having kids and they’ll need to learn all this stuff eventually. It’s best not to hide them from it.