Nova Scotia’s sexual education updated before Ontario

Many have been talking about the update to Ontario’s sexual health curriculum, but some may not know that Nova Scotia introduced a similar curriculum almost 4 years ago.

While Ontario’s new sexual education curriculum has been criticized for the inclusion of LGBT topics and the age that sex education is introduced, Nova Scotia’s updated curriculum was quietly implemented in 2011.

“We are really proud of our curriculum,” said Natalie Flinn, the active, healthy living consultant for the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. “We are building capacity for the administration to feel competent and confident in teaching sexual education. And, at the end of the day the true beneficiaries are the children and youth.”

Nova Scotia’s curriculum teaches students about cyberbullying, sexting and how to be safe in an online environment. The update is a response to cultural changes in society, especially in regards to developments in technology and how students interact over social media.

Flinn said that the hypersexual material that children can find on the Internet damages their development in sexual health education.

The curriculum also teaches children about LGBT issues and how they can understand their own sexuality. All of these issues are tailored for each specific age group.

Ontario announced similar changes to its curriculum in late February.  Some parents are upset that children will begin sexual education in Grade 1 and feel that they should not be taught about sex at such a young age.

Ontario’s curriculum has not been updated since 1998.

Both Nova Scotia and Ontario follow guidelines from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Where the two provinces differ is when they introduce certain topics in the classroom.

The organization aims to be non-heterosexist and responds to common misconceptions surrounding sexual health such as sex education leading to early sexual activity.

Additional sexual education available for schools

If the education programs in the schools aren’t enough, there are many other resources for sexual education located throughout Halifax.

The South House offers additional support and resources for sexual health.

The South House, located on South Street, is a sexual health resource centre and will do inclusive workshops on sex and sexual health
The South House, located on South Street, is a sexual health resource centre and will do inclusive workshops on sex and sexual health (Photo: Jennifer Lee).

Jude Ashburn, the organization’s outreach co-ordinator, said that they would often be asked to go to schools and do workshops on sex and gender. They would cover topics that wouldn’t necessarily be discussed in a classroom.

“For a long time we went in and gave sex ed for free and just went everywhere that asked us. And when we do sex ed we mention things like pleasure and masturbation. These are things we don’t think you would get in sex ed (in schools),” said Ashburn. “We affirm the right to have unbiased scientific information about your body.”

While providing workshops in schools, Ashburn learned that children know a lot more about their own bodies and sex education than some might think.

“We asked kids in Grade 3 to describe their gender and they came up with some really radical answers. We would ask them things like, ‘If your gender was a place where would it be’ and what they would come up with was amazing,” said Ashburn.

Flinn said they have received letters of support from parents commending the curriculum.

Since the 2011 update was a response to adapt Nova Scotia’s curriculum to cultural changes in society, there may be more updates in the future.