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Prof. Lauren Bialystok on the Conservative government’s decision to scrap the 2015 sex education curriculum

Teaching sex education in 2018 using an outdated curriculum is catastrophic, will have direct consequences on children’s health and well-being, says Bialystok

By Kaitlyn Balkovec

July 16, 2018


Watch: OISE Professor Lauren Bialystok discusses the curriculum change on CTV News. 

Earlier this week, the Conservative government announced that it was following through on its campaign promise to scrap the new sex education curriculum introduced by the Liberals in 2015.

For now, students will be taught using the 1998 curriculum, which was written before high school students in grade 12 were born.

Dr. Lauren Bialystok, Assistant Professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, said she was disappointed with this decision as it will have lasting consequences on youth.

Damaging effects of returning to a 20-year-old curriculum

One of the most poignant issues with reverting back to the old curriculum is the enormous amount of change that has happened in the world since 1998.

Despite the fact that this curriculum was relatively progressive for its time, using it to teach sex education in 2018 would mean subjecting students to outdated terms and concepts, says Dr. Bialystok.

“The 1998 curriculum was written before kids had cell phones, before the internet was the primary source of information for most people, and before social media,” she said. “Children live in a very different world.”

Reverting back to the 1998 curriculum means that topics such as sexual consent, cyberbullying, gender identity, and sexual identity will no longer be covered.

Although this will impact many students, girls and sexual minorities face greater vulnerabilities. Girls are more likely to be assaulted and experience lack of autonomy over their bodies. Sexual minorities are more likely to be bullied, excluded, unrepresented, and engage in risk-taking behaviours.

Additionally, taking a conservative approach to sexual education is unlikely to result in greater success of outcomes that conservative proponents aim to achieve, such as pregnancy prevention, says Dr. Bialystok.

Evidence shows that comprehensive or liberal sexual education is as or more effective than abstinence only education, not only in reducing pregnancy and disease, but delaying sexual activity.

Survey finds most teachers support the curriculum, willing to address parents’ concerns

In 2017, Dr. Bialystok conducted a survey of stakeholders’ views of the 2015 sex education curriculum controversy. She collected responses from 151 teachers of all different grade levels from public, private, and Catholic schools.

Teachers were asked questions about what they took to be changes in the curriculum and what they interpreted the goals to be. They also answered questions related to what their goals as teachers were, what they thought the parental opposition was about, and how the government ought to respond.

Dr. Bialystok found that almost every single teacher expressed a very positive view of the curriculum. Some of the comments from teachers included describing the curriculum as more inclusive, relevant, up-to-date, easier to use, consistent with the students’ lived experiences, and helpful in its layout when it came to teaching.

The survey also indicated that the teachers were well informed about the reasons why parents opposed the curriculum. Some of the reasons included misinformation, homophobia, the worry that children were learning things too soon, and less ability for parents to include their children in their religious and cultural practices.

Encouragingly, Dr. Bialystok found that teachers were eager to address parents’ concerns and clarify misconceptions about the curriculum. There was strong support for having open conversation with parents, as well as increased government resources and training.

“Teachers in the survey said, ‘We want parents to know that we have the same goal. We’re not trying to undermine their religion or their values. This is evidence-based, we’re professionals, we care about your kids and we want to talk to you about it,’” she said.