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New sex-ed curriculum, raised class size caps for high school among education changes

Last Updated Mar 15, 2019 at 6:54 pm EST

The Ontario government is introducing a new sex-ed curriculum that will return to teaching gender identity and consent, and is raising the cap on high school class sizes as part of major reforms to the education sector.

Education Minister Lisa Thompson said their new education plan will modernize the classroom, allowing students to “acquire the skills they need to build successful lives, families and businesses.”

The province is also introducing a new math curriculum, revising teacher hiring practices and banning cellphones in classrooms.

The new sex-ed curriculum will replace an interim teaching plan based on 1998 materials that was put in place last year after the Progressive Conservatives repealed a 2015 curriculum from the previous Liberal government. The 2015 curriculum addressed consent, online bullying, sexting, same-sex relationships and gender identity.

The government is also emphasizing that the new document will include teaching on abstinence, lessons on cannabis and earlier discussions on body image and consent.

The province says parents will still be able to opt out of having their kids exposed to certain topics in the sex-ed class, and the ministry will issue online modules for those who want guidance on discussing those topics at home. The full curriculum is expected to be released in May and implemented in September.

Some topics will be mandatory for students. Thompson originally said gender identity would be one of those topics, taught in Grade 8, but later clarified it would be included in topics that parents could opt-out of.

The government has also been consulting since January on class sizes and teacher hiring practices, including asking whether hard caps on class sizes should continue.

On Friday, the province said it will raise the cap for high school classes by six students, to 28. It will also raise the cap by one student for Grades 4 to 8.

It said Ontario high schools currently have one of the lowest student-to-teacher ratios in the country and the change will be phased in over four years.

“Not one teacher – not one – will lose their job because of our class size strategy,” Thompson said, though she would not say whether the province would rely on attrition to cut costs.

Thompson adds there will be no changes to full-day kindergarten, “I personally truly believe in full-day kindergarten and what it offers our four- and five-year-olds and I know parents do as well.”

Ontario high schools will also receive a revised curriculum on First Nations, Metis and Inuit studies, which the province said was developed in collaboration with Indigenous partners. That document is also scheduled to be released in May and put in place by the next school year.

Thompson says they are also undertaking new math strategy over the next four years, calling it a “back-to-basics” approach with less ideology and more skills.

Financial literacy will also be added to the mandatory curriculum for high-schoolers, along with a renewed focus on STEM and skilled trades.

A new digital curriculum platform available on any device will be launched to provide teachers, students and parents with full-curriculum access and the ability to see up-to-the minute changes. Thompson said this will save the Ministry hundreds of thousands of dollars that must be spent to print new documents when a curriculum change is made.

The Ministry of Education will be working with the new Chair of EQAO to modernize the agency and will update what it evaluates and how it evaluates the success of their education program.

In terms of revising hiring practices for teachers, Thompson said she want principals to be able to hire talented teachers when they meet them.

“Energetic young teachers with new ideas are struggling to enter the profession,” said Thompson. “Hiring should not be based just on seniority but talent and expertise.”

Thompson confirmed a ban on cellphones in the classrooms reported earlier this week. She says exceptions will be made at a teacher’s discretion, but “letting students use personal cellphones without restrictions can and have led to privacy issues, cheating and distractions.”

Watch the complete announcement below: