As It Happens

As Ontario rolls back sex-ed curriculum, Quebec to teach kindergarteners how babies are made

A decade since sex-ed was dropped from Quebec's school system, the subject will be mandatory in every grade, beginning in kindergarten, starting this September.

Quebec teacher said Ontario students will be 'ill-prepared' learning from a 20-year-old sex-ed curriculum

As Ontario embraces 1998 sex-ed curriculum, Quebec is set to teach kindergarteners about the birds and the bees. (Josée Ducharme/Radio-Canada)

The president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers is calling the Ontario government's plan to revert back to a 20-year-old sex education curriculum "a regressive decision."

"It's certainly something that goes the opposite way of what should be happening," said Sebastien Joly, in an interview with As It Happens guest host Rosemary Barton.

On Wednesday, Ontario's education minister Lisa Thompson said the sex-ed curriculum taught to children in the coming school year will be one from 1998, taking away a newer version that was put in place in 2015.

The new curriculum, implemented by the Liberal government, sparked controversy among social conservatives. It included warnings about online bullying and sexting. However, those against the updated version were opposed to its mentions of same-sex marriage, gender equality and masturbation.

But just as Ontario is set to make the change in the fall, the province of Quebec will soon start teaching sex-ed again after it was dropped from the school curriculum a decade ago. Coming in September, it will be a mandatory subject in every grade, beginning in kindergarten.

"We're actually implementing a much broader sexual education program across the board from elementary to high school, which takes into account today's reality. And certainly, with a broader lens when it comes to sexual education," said Joly.

Ontario education minister Lisa Thompson and Ontario premier Doug Ford. On Wednesday, Thompson said the sex-ed curriculum taught to children in the coming school year will be one from 1998 (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Joly said the new changes come as a result of years of work, and after the success of three years of pilot projects in more than 200 schools across Quebec.

He said kindergarteners will be introduced to things like their body parts and how babies are made. Students will learn about same sex relationships and homophobia as early as Grades 3 and 4. More in-depth issues such as managing conflicts within relationships will be learned in older grades.

Like in Ontario, Joly said there has been resistance amongst some parents who have asked that their child not be exposed to the contents of the new sex-ed curriculum. 

"I think, in the first place, there's probably...ignorance towards the kind of content and how it will be taught," he said.

"The other element obviously [is] for religious reasons and beliefs or cultural background reasons."

But as it stands, Joly said he will see how big the resistance will be towards the new sex-ed curriculum before taking any action. He added that he will also be watching how the different school districts manage the situation.

Demonstrators protested against Ontario's 2015 sex education curriculum over its mentions of same sex marriage, masturbation and gender equality. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

What students will be learning

Having been a teacher for 19 years, Joly has taught sex-ed in his classes. However, he says the older versions of the curriculum was focused more on health such as the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and birth control.

He added that almost no content was being covered in elementary school, only in high schools. He said the focus was also more of a "narrow" view.

"Teachers were not necessarily comfortable approaching the students or addressing these issues with the students in the classroom," Joly said.

Sebastien Joly, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, says he thinks the Ontario government is going backwards in time as it reverts back to a 20-year-old sex-ed curriculum. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

"Now we have a much broader view of this, and it really goes beyond the only mechanical component. It talks a lot about relationships and [has] a lot of other components having to do with our link to sexuality."

Joly said the new curriculum will also include subjects like sexting and online pornography. These are subjects that will not be covered in the version of sex-ed that will be taught in Ontario schools in the coming school year.

"Sexting and the whole component of social media, which developed greatly in the past 15 years, obviously would not have been part of the discussion or the content in 1998," he said.

"So once again, we're going back in time and we're not taking into account the new reality...that our students and our youth is faced with as far as sexuality."

Ontario students will be 'ill-prepared'

Joly said he is worried that Ontario students learning 20-year-old curriculum will make them "ill-prepared" when it comes to facing the real world.

The role of the school is to build a critical mind, to raise awareness of our youth about these different issues and ultimately allow them to protect themselves- Sebastien Joly, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers

He understands that some parents may feel that it is their role to teach their kids about sex, rather than schools. However, Joly said schools play an important part in developing a child as a member of society.

"The role of the school is to build a critical mind, to raise awareness of our youth about these different issues and ultimately allow them to protect themselves," he said.

"I fear that these students will probably be ill-prepared if they are not exposed to a program when it comes to sexuality or sexual education which will be outdated." 

Written by Samantha Lui. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. With files from CBC News.