Help wanted: Comprehensive sex-ed in B.C.'s schools

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Photo: flickr/ romana klee

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Today's article is brought to you by the letter 'S'. 'S' is for school and 'S' is for sex.

Both of these topics have garnered a significant amount of media attention over the past few months due to the recent controversy sparked by Ontario's updated sex-ed curriculum, and now the latest changes in to the B.C curriculum.

The B.C. Ministry of Education recently released an updated K-12 curriculum to be rolled out over the next three years. One of the most significant changes to note is the redesign of the Physical Education (PE) curriculum. It will now encompasses a more holistic approach to health, including mental, physical and social wellbeing, with an emphasis on healthy behaviours and habits. This is, on the whole, a fairly progressive approach that allows for the promotion of long-term healthy behaviours.

This change however, effectively removes the majority of the sex-ed learning outcomes within Planning 10, and places them in Physical and Health Education. "Sexual education seems to fall to PE by default. Without a foundation of current resources or guidance, PE teachers will inevitably create outdated lesson plans," according to Bryan Fischer, a PE teacher and athletic director in Delta.

The truth is that the Ministry of Education had an opportunity to update a nearly 10-year-old set of vague and general learning outcomes and they missed it. They had the chance to follow Ontario's lead by expanding the existing curriculum to include topics such as consent, pleasure, gender and sexuality and pornography and tailor it to the current social issues facing today's students.

Sites like Facebook and YouPorn were in their infancies in 2006 (the last curriculum review) and apps like Instagram and tinder did not even exist. "While the vague curriculum guidelines allow for creativity in the classroom, sex-ed needs more help. Students are absorbing sexual content in rapid fire via snapchat and sexting. We need more specific learning outcomes to address the needs of our iPhone equipped learners," adds Fischer.

The larger and arguably more pressing issue is around training, or lack there of, provided for teachers; training to support implementing sexual health curriculum the right way.

According to the Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education, one of the five core principles of effective sexual health education is training and administrative support. Training that is either currently not offered, or must be taken out of individual teacher's own interest.

"I honestly don't see [the] majority of physical education teachers teaching the sexual health component due to the fact they have not had the training. I took some courses at UBC on sexual health, which helped, but considering my interest in the subject matter, a lot of it is self taught," says Renee Gregerson, a PE and Planning 10 teacher in Surrey.

There are a couple of solutions to overcome these challenges:

1. Provide (and require) specialized training for all teachers responsible for courses that contain sexual health learning outcomes. Sexual health is not currently a subject that is offered in teacher training programs and professional development opportunities are limited.

2. Provide teachers with the financial means to hire professional subject matter experts to assist with the delivery of the more challenging components of the sexual health curriculum. Our province is fortunate to have resources available such as Options for Sexual Health and Saleema Noon Educators, that provide professional educators and trainers.

Sexual health is a delicate subject matter, one that can be biased by personal values, loaded with sexual shame, and tainted by judgment and misinformation. A real potential exists of inadvertently passing this negativity on to another generation of youth, at a sensitive time, developmentally, in their lives. This is not necessarily the fault of classroom teachers, but an indication of a lack of training and experience in the subject matter. One might argue that the content of the curriculum is a moot point unless the educators charged with teaching the subject are trained to be knowledgeable and effective in practice.

We are living in an age where 92 per cent of students and 85 per cent of parents feel that sexual health education should be provided in schools and where our government has prioritized this education to include it in updated curriculum. The disconnect lies in the teaching of this content and as long as teachers are untrained or lacking in the funding to acquire expert sexual health educators in their classrooms, sex-ed in this province will remain inconsistent and inadequate.


Miranda Massie is the Health Promotions Coordinator at the University of British Columbia. She is also a trained community sexual health educator who believes in comprehensive, unbiased and non-judgmental sex-ed in schools. She can be found moonlighting as a Polynesian dancer and instructor or striking up a conversations about sex with strangers across the Lower Mainland.

Photo: flickr/ romana klee

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