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LETTER: Students need better sex-education

Doug Ford greets the media after being named as the newly elected leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives at the delayed Ontario PC Leadership announcement in Markham, Ont., on Saturday, March 10, 2018.
Doug Ford greets the media after being named as the newly elected leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives at the delayed Ontario PC Leadership announcement in Markham, Ont., on Saturday, March 10, 2018. - The Canadian Press

Recently, the new Ontario government has announced that it will revert to a sexual health education curriculum last updated in 1998, setting aside an evidence-based, consent-based curriculum that was developed with significant public consultation and implemented in 2015.

This is a regressive move. The 2015 Ontario sexual health education curriculum includes many elements that contemporary students need: curriculum that goes beyond reproductive biology and supplements what they learn at home with age-appropriate answers to the real-world questions they are living. Many people who care about young people and their sexual health are appalled that Ontario will return to a curriculum that is 20 years old.

And yet, many elements of P.E.I.’s sexual health education curriculum are even older. The Family Life Education curriculum for Grade 10 has not been updated since 1995. It predates legal same-sex marriage, P.E.I.’s human rights protection for gender identity and gender expression, in-province access to abortion care, numerous trends in sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections, transmission and treatment, and numerous innovations in contraception – not to mention the advent of social media and widespread access to the Internet. It is focused on reproductive biology and is based on abstinence as the appropriate/default sexual behaviour for young people.

We acknowledge that many excellent educators across the province go beyond the minimum expectations set in curriculum, and that curriculum specialists have done their best with what exists. We recognize there are excellent resources in use and in development that address healthy relationships, consent, and other crucial issues, yet, a curriculum is a foundation. Its content sets the base and communicates implicit values. And it is time for P.E.I. to set a new base and communicate more inclusive and appropriate values for 2018.

As Ontario, recognized with its 2015 curriculum, today's students need more. They need information that includes dynamics of consent, healthy relationships, and healthy sexuality; the range of sexual orientations and sexual behaviours; the many ways to build a family; the spectrum of gender identities, experiences, and expressions; and the many ways people communicate about sex and sexuality, including using the Internet and social media. They need culturally sensitive messages that respect the diversity of students’ backgrounds. Students need up-to-date and accurate information to be sexually healthy, to behave sexually in ways that are safe and appropriate, and to be safe themselves. These are not questions that young people can safely Google, and not all conversations are possible or welcome at home.

Good, up-to-date sexual health education helps protect young people from many harms. Good sexual health education helps protect against sexual abuse, sexual assault, and sexual exploitation. It protects against transmission of disease and unwanted pregnancies. It provides them with tools to say no to activity they don’t want and yes to activity they do want – in ways that keep them safe.

We, the undersigned organizations, call on the Island’s Department of Education and Early Learning to develop a new, comprehensive, and up-to-date sexual health curriculum for Island students from K–12.

We offer our partnership and support and our willingness to work with government to co-develop a curriculum that responds to P.E.I. young people’s contemporary realities and needs.

Cybelle Reiber, PEERS Alliance

Jane Ledwell, P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women

Jillian Kilfoil, Women’s Network P.E.I.

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