Ontario students should start learning how to read facial expressions and emotions as early as Grade 1 to give them the ability to understand consent in sexual relations, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday.
"Starting right in the primary and junior grades, kids will be learning listening skills and helping each other to pay attention to facial expressions and what they mean and whether somebody is positive or negative or happy or sad," said Wynne. "Start to learn those signals from the time they enter school so, I think, that very early you build the building blocks for that kind of interpersonal ability and intelligence."
The Liberal government backed off an attempt to update Ontario's sex ed curriculum in 2010 after objections from some religious leaders, which means the province hasn't changed its policy since 1998, long before the widespread use of social media, smart phones or even the term "sexting."
Research shows that between 15 and 28 per cent of teenagers have sent a "sext," a sexually explicit image or text message.
"We need to renew the curriculum to address issues that students are facing every day," said Wynne.
After touring colleges and universities across Ontario earlier this month, Wynne met Monday with two Grade 8 girls from Toronto, who want the concept of consent and healthy relationships built into the updated sex education curriculum due this fall.
"We're asking for it to teach a lot more than just asking for permission," said Lia Valente, age 13. "It's understanding what is a clear, enthusiastic, affirmative 'yes,' and what consent looks and sounds like, so understanding body language, facial expressions and how the lack of 'No' isn't necessarily 'Yes."'
Wynne met with the girls after hearing them speak on CBC Toronto's Metro Morning show earlier this month. Their Change.org petition, which has more than 38,000 signatures, calls on the province to make consent a part of the new curriculum.
Valente and Hill want the updated sex ed curriculum to help teach a "consent culture."
"Everything in creating a consent culture starts with education, and so it starts with putting that information in the curriculum so kids can learn about asking for permission and about healthy relationships," said Hill.
Teaching abstinence won't help young people understand about consent and healthy relations, added Hill.
"Whether or not teens are going to be having sex when they're 13 or 14 ... learning about abstinence isn't realistic because sex is a part of society, part of our lives," she said. "Not learning about consent means not knowing what consent is when you do decide to have sex."
Speaking Tuesday on Metro Morning, Valente said Wynne's view of consent "matched ours"
"She said she was proud of us," said Hill. "She totally understood what we were pushing for."
Wynne said she heard from post-secondary students during her recent campus tour that young people want input on any school policy and curriculum changes involving consent.
"I want to make sure that we have a curriculum in place that gives young people the opportunity to learn about healthy relationships," she said. "I want students to understand what it means to say No, and what it means to give active consent."
Valente said she's glad the province appears to be listening to students.
"It's our curriculum," she said. "We are the ones learning it. And it's time that youth get a say in what we're learning at school."