Abandoning the 2015 curriculum could be detrimental to Ontario students
The Progressive Conservative government in Ontario announced it would repeal the 2015 sexual education curriculum early this summer, on July 11. The province is using an interim curriculum instead, while consultations take place to produce a new “age-appropriate” curriculum.
The interim curriculum being used within the province for grades 1-8 is an updated version of the 1998 sex-ed curriculum, while grades 9-12 will continue to use the 2015 curriculum. Since the changes to the curriculum were announced, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association have turned to the courts to challenge the changes, and there has been a public backlash.
However, the worry about returning to the old curriculum is what won’t be taught to students, or what subjects will be limited in scope. Unlike the comprehensive 2015 sex ed curriculum, the 1998 curriculum only teaches about “common” STDs, possible consequences of “risky (sexual) behaviors,” and encourages abstinence as a “positive choice.” It also lags behind in addressing sexting and potential dangers online such as sexual harassment.
Gender identity and sexual orientation are also among the subjects that are excluded from the interim curriculum being taught. The 2015 curriculum included information on gender identities including transgender, intersex, and two-spirit, along with discussions about sexual orientations. Now, only students in grade 7 will learn that using homophobic put-downs are harmful. Exclusion of gender identity and sexual orientations from the curriculum could be harmful, since it could encourage bullying or further marginalization of students that identify as LGBTQA+ or have LBTQA+ family members. It also removes a way for students to have access to credible information when they might be undergoing the confusing process of determining their sexuality or gender identity. Furthermore, parents of LGBTQA+ students have already launched a Human Rights Tribunal Council, and the ETFO has commented that the interim curriculum may conflict with the constitutional rights of students.
Another worrying aspect of the interim curriculum is the complete lack of education about consent. The 2015 sex-ed curriculum included discussions about what constitutes a yes or no for consent, and that consent to one sexual activity doesn’t mean consent to all sexual activities. If Ontario students have no concept of what consent is and how to communicate consent with any future partners, it could contribute to an increase in sexual violence in the long term.
In conjunction with the exclusion of consent in the interim sexual education curriculum, an Ontario judge recently ruled that extreme intoxication can be used in defense of a sexual assault. Since cases of sexual assaults that occur when individuals are intoxicated usually hinge on if consent can be given, it’s especially worrying that the interim sexual education avoids discussing those topics. There is a possibility that there could be more sexual assaults perpetrated by young adults that go through the interim curriculum, due to lack of education and the potential of fewer consequences in the legal system.
Lastly, the scrapping of the 2015 sex-ed curriculum was accompanied by a warning from Premier Doug Ford about potential consequences to educators for not following the interim curriculum. The province set up a hotline for parents to report any teachers deviating from the new curriculum, which has worried some educators and the ETFO. The interim curriculum is therefore not only potentially harmful to students but also to the educators that may try to teach more up to date sexual education.
Ontario’s interim sexual education curriculum could be detrimental in many respects, so it’s no wonder that there has been an outcry over the changes. However, hopefully, the findings from the consultation process will create a new sexual education curriculum that addresses some of the concerns arising from the renewed use of the 1998 curriculum, to keep Ontario students educated and healthy.