Opinion: Health and Physical Education Curriculum, Teachers’ Perspective

By Mariam Mazhar

Opinion: Health and Physical Education Curriculum, Teachers’ Perspective

As a Muslim parent I feel frustrated by the entire buzz about the updates being made to the Health and Physical Health Education (Sex-Ed) Curriculum. I have been reading almost every new post and news coming in the media, and have been talking to fellow educators on this issue. I have reached a point that I am clueless about the future of my kids and I feel helpless.

For a moment I stop and imagine that it’s already September and this new Sex Ed curriculum is implemented throughout Ontario, including my kid’s school. So what’s next? Should I pull my children out of public school and home school them?  Or should I register them in an Islamic school?

Sad truth is, I cannot afford any of it. I do not have the time to home school my kids, do not have finances to send them to Islamic school and moving away is out of question. In such a situation I have to come in terms with the new curriculum. My child will have option to skip the class but that worries me even more. If he is not getting firsthand knowledge from his teacher, it will reach him through his peers and most likely in a twisted version.  In such a case I have to gear up and prepare myself to talk openly and confidently to my kids in the light of Islam and Sunnah and what is morally right for them.

As a teacher, I am still waiting for proper guidelines to teach this tricky subject and I am hesitant just like most of the Ontarian teachers but a decade old curriculum surely needed revision. I come from a visible Muslim community for whom talking about sex is almost a taboo and not everybody understands this. However, this sex education is not just for Muslims but for all other religious and ethnic communities. I talked to some of the teaching staff across different boards in Ontario and here’s what they had to say about the new sex education curriculum:

‘I am pretty sure that most of my fellow teachers will teach these topics in a way that is truthful but also age appropriate. Not to mention with their student’s well-being at heart. The language I would use relating to the same topic for younger grades in comparison to older grades is substantially different yet provides those students with the understanding they need. People hear the topics and automatically apply a scary/negative/dirty connotation to it and blow it out of proportion. Keeping our students informed and giving them the tools they need in life is the main goal here, not corruption of our youth. Have some faith in your educators! I am reassuring parents that they can have faith in our judgement as educators to deliver the program in a professional, age appropriate manner to their children. We always have to take the complicated curriculum expectations and decide the best way to teach them to each unique group of students we have. I just feel that we need to be careful to not be so defensive of people having a differing viewpoint that we judge them as ignorant or use sarcasm about where they got their information. Let’s also remember that parents aren’t teachers and so are coming to this with a different perspective. A few people have seemed rather defensive in their responses and I think it’s important to remember that not everyone has to agree with your viewpoint and if they don’t there is no need to be judgemental about it.’

 ‘Schools have a role to play in educating kids about sexuality, but the real issue is who should be doing the teaching and when. Programs need to be taught by competent educators. Understanding the student’s readiness to learn is also paramount, as children develop differently. It needs to be taught by well-prepared, highly skilled teachers who are comfortable delivering the program. Otherwise, it will do more harm than good.’

‘If parents were teaching their kids, that would be great. But especially those parents who are opposed to the curriculum, you know they’re not talking about sexting over dinner. They’re just not. And so it does fall to the schools. I want [parents] to understand that they should be their kids’ number one source of information, and anything else that they get – from schools, or other reliable adults – is just icing.’

‘For some families, their religious beliefs don’t allow the act of masturbation, and when their child’s teacher tells them that this act is ok, parents aren’t ok with this. Now, because we as teachers are diverse and have our own unique values and beliefs on the subject, parents worry those teachers’ opinions, beliefs, and practices may come across in the lesson. Since our roles as teachers are so impactful, parents fear that their kids will be influenced by their teachers on the subject because an in-direct message was passed down with the lesson. They fear that their children will become curious now of things they’ve learned, which can be problematic. That’s why I feel that there is a need for open dialogue between admin, parents and teachers on how the subject is going to be taught. Teachers need to be sensitive, that’s all. If teachers are going to be inclusive in the ways that we teach to help students be successful, like we’ve been taught through differentiated instruction, etc., then we also need to be inclusive in the way that we teach sex education to our students, being sensitive to their individual beliefs, and being careful not to pass down our own beliefs on the subject.’

‘So, how will new teachers be trained, and what kinds of workshops and in-house training will be offered to current? Further, how will administrators deal with the students whose parents have decided that such instruction is not appropriate? Jamming this program through with a September 2015 start date is asking for failure. More time is needed to train, discuss and to familiarize teachers with the material.’

Personally, I believe that parents should be the ones teaching children about sex, especially since it is such a controversial subject among families of different social, religious and cultural backgrounds. The schools should encourage parents to talk to their children at different stages of their development and perhaps offer helpful material, but further than that, it is not their job. I conclude that teachers have too many responsibilities. And I would rather find interesting ways to teach math than sex. Are you in favor of transferring more responsibilities to teachers, from families? My answer to that is this: It is not a good idea.

 Image: 123RF