Christina Zisko

Editor

Sex education for Ontario students is a controversial topic and it has been in the news lately as a result of the elections for a new Progressive Conservative leader.

Candidate Tanya Grancic Allen and newly-appointed leader Doug Ford are both outspoken in their belief that Kathleen Wynne’s new sex education curriculum needs to be repealed.

The changes to the curriculum involve the inclusion of information on same-sex relationships, gender identity and sexting. Some parents and politicians are scandalized by the changes, saying it is inappropriate for children to be learning this type of material.

To that I say, it’s 2018 and it’s about time children have a more well-rounded sex education in schools.

Before the most recent update, the curriculum for sex education had not been changed since 1998. The changes that have occurred in society and technology in that time necessitates an overhaul.

In 1998, smartphones and the internet weren’t a part of children’s lives. That can’t be said for children growing up today. It’s not uncommon for children as young as nine or 10 to have their own smartphones with internet access and very little parental supervision.

There is lots of information available online, both true and untrue, and good and bad, and kids in elementary school need the proper education to be able to separate myth from fact.

As adults, we know not to believe everything we read, but impressionable youth are more likely to take information gleaned from the internet at face value. It is better to learn about puberty and healthy relationships through carefully researched and structured education, gathered from professionals, rather than the first online forum they happen to stumble by. Or an online  pornography website.

A criticism of the new sex education curriculum is that it is a parent’s job to teach their children about sex. But some parents don’t. Sex is an awkward topic, and some parents would rather remain ignorant of the fact that sexuality is an important topic that their children need to learn.

We can’t just hope that parents are teaching their children accurate information, or teaching them at all.

This is why sex education needs to be taught in schools, or there is the risk that some children will grow up not learning anything at all. Teaching sex education to students makes the topic less ambiguous and awkward, and allows children the ability to make their own decisions in a well-informed way.

Wynne has said 4,000 parents were consulted in the creation of the new curriculum, as well as psychologists, police, psychiatrists and educators. This means it was not haphazardly thrown together, but rather is the product of careful and well-informed planning. Unlike the knee-jerk reaction by politicians.

To be sure, the curriculum is age-appropriate, meaning children in the first few years of elementary education will be learning material that is very different from what is taught to seventh or eighth graders.

For example, according to ontario.ca, children in Grade One are taught about body parts, senses and functions. Puberty begins to be discussed in Grade Four, while sexual health and sexually transmitted infections are topics reserved for students in Grade Seven.

This puts the worry to rest that young children will be taught about intercourse at eight years old. It simply is not true.

Abstinence only education, or no sex education at all, is a disservice to students. There is a fear that early sex education may make students more likely to have sex early. Studies have shown that education actually postpones sexual activity.

In addition, educated young people are more likely to use contraceptives, resulting in a decreased risk of teen pregnancy. A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health showed abstinence only education does not reduce the likelihood of teens having sex.

When the facts show something isn’t working, it’s time for a change.

Ontario isn’t the first province to implement this type of curriculum. Gender identity, sexual orientation, birth control, consent and sexual abuse are all taught at some point to students in every other province.

Schools are meant to teach children up to date and useful information. If curriculums are not updated regularly, in sex education or any subject, that would mean that students are graduating not properly prepared for real world situations.

The changes to the Ontario sex education curriculum are not radical. They are important, necessary and were long overdue.