For Ashley Stolk, Ontario’s new health and physical education curriculum came too late.
“My mom was never open with me about intercourse,” Stolk said. In 2008, Stolk, then 17, gave birth to her daughter Hailey.
“Some (people) think all young moms pawn off their kids to go and party,” she said. “In my case, Hailey pushed me to graduate high school, college and get a career. We have a better life now.”
Last week, the Ontario Ministry of Education unveiled a new curriculum that will take effect when students return to elementary and high school this fall. The new curriculum covers topics such as stereotypes, gender identity, sexual orientation and consent – content not included in the 1998 curriculum. This fall sex-education curriculum will also cover topics in health and physical education.
Peter Tabuns, MPP for Toronto-Danforth, said the NDP supports the modernization of the curriculum.
“We hope the curriculum will lead to better health for young people and a reduction of prejudice against gay, lesbian and trans-gendered people,” he said.
The 244-page document, titled “Ontario Health and Physical Education Curriculum,” drew criticism, last week, when topics such as masturbation and oral sex were included in planned instruction. According to the curriculum documents, these topics appear in the teacher prompts and student responses.
Angela Kennedy, the TCDSB trustee for Toronto-East York, hasn’t fully endorsed the new curriculum. She said she’s “awaiting the decision” from the Institute for Catholic Education. Meantime, she’s also consulting her constituents.
“I am also taking every opportunity to talk with parents to hear their views,” she said.
In response to the criticism, a ministry spokesperson said that these prompts provide illustrations for teachers in support of their program planning.
“They’re to support teachers in answering and clarifying questions and situations that arise in the learning of the curriculum expectations,” the spokesperson said. “(Teachers are required to) address all of the learning expectations in the curriculum, (but) they are not required to use the examples, prompts, and student responses.”
Former premier Dalton McGuinty tried to introduce sex-education reform in 2010, but because of controversy his administration withdrew the planned changes. Although former teen-mom Stolk agrees with the new curriculum, she believes the heavier topics should be introduced no earlier than Grade 4. Stolk puts emphasis on educating teens on contraceptives, especially those teens who are sexually active.
“There is no better way than parents and teachers working together to make teens aware of the positives that safe sex practice brings,” said Stolk.
As a young mother, Stolk said she is prepared to talk to her child about sexuality.
“When Hailey reaches her teen years, I’ll have condoms available in the house for her to take,” she said. “Other parents say I’m asking for her to become a teen mom like I was, but I disagree with them. … Children need guidance and support.”