“There were no changes made to the curriculum as a result of the new policies. Sexual assault prevention education will continue to be taught by teachers as part of the curriculum,” a statement from the Ministry of Education to the CBC read. However, a Regina teacher, Kristopher Dueck, with 12 years of experience teaching the province’s Health 9 curriculum, shared some thoughts with Pratyush Dayal for an article published on December 11. (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/survivors-of-domestic-violence-seek-educational-reforms-1.7052409)

Dueck said there is a mandate to discuss healthy romantic relationships, but there is significant room for individual interpretation. “They’re named explicitly in the outcomes in the curriculum. [But] the Health 9 curriculum in Saskatchewan is not very prescriptive. It does not have modules. A lot of decisions that are made with regard to the Health 9 curricula are made by teachers and how they interpret the outcomes,” he said.

Dueck shared that, as he sees it, there is little surveillance over Health 9 as it exists in schools, partially out of discomfort, but also partly because historically there has not been a lot of oversight on how it is taught…which allows teachers to escape the teaching of it. Dueck believes that in some instances these topics in Health 9 classes, are either glossed over or done poorly with not a lot of depth or detail. This is where organizations like Saskatoon Sexual Health (SSHC), Battlefords and Area Sexual Assault Centre (BASAC), and Saskatoon Sexual Assault and Information Centre (SSAIC) have traditionally come in.

Unfortunately, the reality in Saskatchewan right now is, that if Dueck himself was a new teacher, who felt a culture of surveillance around topics that might be perceived as sensitive, then out of self-preservation he said he could see himself potentially avoiding teaching those things. Additionally, Dueck said, the resources that exist are there, but they are primarily found through outside organizations. Under the new legislation that no longer allows third-party groups to come into schools, young teachers who might not be able to teach those things and might have in the past relied on these organizations to fill that gap and help teach about those topics, no longer have that option. 

In an email statement, the Government of Saskatchewan said, “Saskatchewan health education curricula offers multiple opportunities for students to develop skills related to healthy relationships and to understand the impact of violence, including emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Topics such as healthy relationships, coercive control, and dating standards are addressed in health education.” However, if those who are expected to deliver the curricula are not well versed in the topics and up-to-date, relevant resources are not readily available, how are these ‘opportunities’ going to develop?

The lack of third-party educators has left some teachers concerned about providing adequate sexual health education in their classrooms. Experts argue that comprehensive and evidence-based sexual education is crucial in teaching students how to keep themselves safe in dangerous situations, bridging the gap between knowledge and preparedness. With the suspension of these third-party programs, like those brought by Saskatoon Sexual Health, how can it be seen as anything other than counterproductive to preventing child sexual abuse? Critics stress the importance of prevention rather than solely offering counseling after something has happened. (https://www.expresshealthcaremgmt.com/news2/alarm-grows-as-saskatchewan-bars-third-party-sexual-health-sexual-abuse-prevention-educators-from-classrooms/215517/#gsc.tab=0)

In a November 2nd edition of The Globe and Mail, Elizabeth Fendley MD, of Vancouver, B.C. wrote in an Opinion piece, that as a family physician going into elementary schools as a “sexual-health” educator was one of her favourite out-of-office engagements. Being an adult who was more comfortable and familiar with the language and the facts, than parents and teachers, she was seen as an invaluable resource. Continuing she wrote that there “is ample evidence that knowledge about sexuality and knowing how to talk about it is beneficial for school-aged children. It protects them from bullying, predators, unwanted touching, sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy. It gives them freedom to grow up with confidence and security, rather than in ignorance and fear.” 

No parent wants their child to be forced to ‘grow up before their time’, but the reality is that many children today have already been exposed to more sexual content than their parents at the same age, and the internet is their source of information when they are not hearing the information they are seeking. According to Natalya Mason, former Education and Outreach Coordinator for Saskatoon Sexual Health, the Ministry of Education’s most recent renewal for health education curricula was in 2010 for Grades 1 to 5. One Grade 10 class was renewed in 2012, but these were all “before the era of Snapchat and other image-based messaging platforms or the #MeToo movement.” The redevelopment of curricula is a slow process and if teachers are restricted to the ‘approved’ resources, the course is destined to leave students frustrated with what they see as antiquated information and notions.

In 2020, Saskatoon Sexual Health created open-source lesson plans and slides to help teachers answer tough and sometimes awkward questions about healthy relationships, sexually transmitted infections, and contraception. The plans’ resources are based on the 2019 revised Canadian guidelines on sexual health education, which are the best standard in Canada, according to Frédérique Chabot, then interim director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, a non-profit that advocates for sexual and reproductive rights. Meant as tools to facilitate open, thoughtful discussions topics include safe sex, healthy relationships, rejection and boundaries, puberty, and being new in town. The lesson plans include detailed lists of learning objectives, exercises, questions, and supplemental activities that can be geared to the individual class. “We recognize that educators are facing extreme challenges in delivering this content,” Mason said at the time. “The curriculum tells you what the students need to learn, but it doesn’t necessarily tell you how to get there.”

LetsStopAIDS, a youth-driven Canadian charity that raises HIV awareness among young Canadians, released the findings of its second Sex Lives Report in October 2023, based on data collected in May through a survey sampling 1,090 Canadians aged 18 to 24. The report found sex ed gave students an “abundance” of scientific information but was “severely lacking in practical knowledge or skills,” leaving respondents with unanswered questions, said Gabrial Brown, a research analyst with the charity. The findings of the study, Brown said, were loud and clear; the conventional methods of addressing sexuality are obsolete, and young Canadians feel forced to find answers elsewhere, with six in 10 identifying the internet as their primary source of sexual information, followed by friends and family doctors. One youth’s comment about the current state of sexual health education in Canada supports the findings, saying “It’s important to learn about anatomy, but when actually going through their day-to-day lives when actually engaging in sexuality, I think learning about healthy relationships deserves more focus than learning about where exactly in the testes is semen created.” (Let’s talk about sexual health education: Youth perspectives on their learning experiences in Canada. Erin Laverty et. al., 2021.)

According to a 2021 study of parents across the country, most parents (85%) support sexual health education and are happy to have professionals talk to their children about their bodies and relationships, sometimes because they are uncomfortable having those conversations or do not feel they know how to. They endorse sexual health education programs in schools that are comprehensive and want sexual health to include topics related to both the enhancement of sexual health and the prevention of sexual health problems. (Attitudes towards sexual health education in schools: A national survey of parents in Canada. Wood et al. 2021)

Comprehensive sexual education is not just about sex, it is about so much more than that. It is how someone feels about their body, understanding the changes that are occurring in one’s life, consent, boundaries, and the impact of technologies on body image. The goal of any sexual health education class should be to give students the knowledge, attitudes, skills, and values to make healthy choices. Preventing students from contracting sexually transmitted infections (STI) such as HIV, HPV, and syphilis, reducing unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, and lowering the rates of intimate partner and family violence are all valuable outcomes of sexual health education classes in Saskatchewan schools. Why does our government continue to tie the hands of teachers when it comes to deciding who can provide the most pertinent information to students relating to sexual health? 

In 2019, the Saskatchewan Medical Association passed a motion declaring comprehensive sex education to be a public health priority, (https://thestarphoenix.com/news/saskatchewan/non-profit-creates-free-sex-ed-resources-for-saskatchewan-teachers) yet former Minister of Education, Dustin Duncan, in one fell swoop banned all third-party organizations from giving sexual-health education in Saskatchewan schools because of the error of one person in one group. Perhaps the Premier should recognize that errors happen, they even happen in the Legislature, most notably, when a “terrible error in judgment” led a Saskatchewan Party MLA to invite a man convicted of brutally beating his former wife to death, to attend the Opening of the Legislature and hear the Throne Speech.

By Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jan 05, 2024 at 18:39

This item reprinted with permission from   Wakaw Recorder   Wakaw, Saskatchewan

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