Parenting: What You Need to Know About... Sex Education at School
by Teenaz Javat
It was parent’s night at the brand new McKinnon Public School in Mississauga’s Churchill Meadows community.
The parents – most of them new to the school, the community and even to the country – were anxiously waiting to learn more about what their children will do during the time they spend every day at school.
The evening was more of an outreach session aimed at building connections between home and school.
The school wanted feedback from the parents and caregivers as to how they wanted their school to evolve and what they expected by way of education being imparted to their children.
From dress code to homework clubs, gym clothes to why an extra pair of indoor shoes was necessary during winter time…several topics were raised and discussed.
In the middle of it all, one elderly Sikh gentleman respectfully stood up and in a matter-of-fact way, asked the teachers why it was necessary to teach his grandchildren who attended the elementary school (which has classes from junior kindergarten to grade six) sex education at such an early stage.
Sex talk is taboo
His question is echoed across the school boards as not only newcomers to this country but also those who are second generation Canadians have ongoing concerns about what their kids are taught in school regarding sex.
“Most parents,” according to Homa Farouzan a settlement worker in schools affiliated with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), “come from countries where talking about sex is taboo. In the schools where I outreach, I do have a lot of parents who come from traditional Muslim families who want to know more about this component of their child’s education and feel uncomfortable talking about it to their kids”.
“Our duty as outreach workers in schools is to help parents connect with their home school and get correct information. I deal with schools that have a large Muslim population. Even amongst Muslims, there are variations in strictness by which they follow the same religion”, Farouzan explains. “For example parents from Syria, Lebanon and Iran are slightly more lenient and they’d rather have teachers initiate their children into the subject of sex education as they feel teachers do a much better job than what they do at home.”
Fariba Sahraie, a single-mom who immigrated to Canada from Iran, said, “My daughter was in grade eight when we came to Toronto and I am very happy with what she has learned at school regarding sex education. She is now in her final year of high school in North York and knows how to deal with these issues, so better to know the facts than remain ignorant like we were back home.
“In Iran we never spoke openly about sex. It is an Islamic country so talking about it openly was taboo. So it’s better that teacher tells them than me.”
However, not everybody is as open minded about this as Sahraie.
There are some parents from Afghanistan and Pakistan who are very strict with their children – more so with their girls – and that is where culture and religion often clash.
No opting out
The school board is very firm about imparting education that forms part of the Ontario curriculum.
No parent can opt out of this as it is a part of the Health and Physical Education component of the curriculum taught gradually from grades one to 12.
Besides, the curriculum is mandated by the Ontario Ministry of Education and sex education is offered at each grade level with topics added and built upon as the child matures in age and grade.
The mandate of the government is primarily to provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to develop, maintain and enjoy healthy lifestyles, as well as to solve problems, make decision and set goals that are directly related to personal health and well-being.
The four components of the Healthy Living strand are:
- Healthy eating.
- Growth and development.
- Personal safety and injury prevention.
- Substance use and abuse.
Sex education is taught within the growth and development strand to every student across all public school boards in Ontario without exception.
Meanwhile, Dhira N. Shah a Mississauga-based aesthetician and mother of two boys is glad the school filled in the blanks in her son’s quest for knowledge.
Shah was expecting her second child almost five years ago when her older son Poorav, who was in grade two, wanted to know how the baby will come out of her years ago when her older son Poorav, who was in grade two, wanted to know how the baby will come out of her body.
“I picked up a picture book on the human body from the public library and began explaining to him how a baby is born, missing out on the pages pertaining to sexual intercourse. I thought my son was too young to understand. As Hindus we are basically uncomfortable talking openly about sex. However, he came home from school the next day with the exact same book telling me that his teacher had explained to him how babies are born and that I had missed out a couple of pages from the book, pointing to those which pertain to intercourse.”
Shah was thrilled that he had learned this in a scientific way and not from his friends. She clearly felt relieved that the teacher took over what she felt uncomfortable talking about.
“What they are doing in schools is very good. Our faith, like most others tells us to live the good life and if schools do such a wonderful job of informing kids, then I have no complaints whatsoever.”
Similar sentiments are echoed by Sue Kim, also a school settlement worker who helps newcomers from East Asian countries, especially Korean families settling in Toronto.
“I have not heard anything negative against sex education taught in schools so far from the parent group I deal with. So I assume they are okay with what is taught to their children in the public school system in Toronto. They have not praised it but neither have they said it is against their religious beliefs,” said Kim.
Jane Wei, who works as a settlement worker in two high schools in Toronto, states “I deal with parents from the Chinese community and they have so far not complained.
“However, this topic is kind of not talked about very openly in Chinese culture so even though parents and children approach me for several problems, not once have they spoken to me about sex education. I think they know they are in a new culture, so what the school is doing is beneficial for their kids, at least that is my understanding of their reaction.”
As Farouzan, who has been in Canada for 22 years and is also a mother of teenagers says, “If these kids have to grow up and live in Ontario they better be well equipped to deal with whatever comes their way. It is a life skill and if parents are shy about imparting sex education to them, I rather they learn it in school.”