Ontario to tweak sex ed curriculum, increase class sizes

Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson during question period at Queen's Park.

Ontario’s Education Minister has unveiled a plan to tweak the sex-ed curriculum, adjust some class sizes, and keep full-day kindergarten.

Lisa Thompson spoke to reporters at the Ontario Science Centre Friday morning about long-awaited changes expected for education.

Addressing speculation about the controversial health and physical education curriculum, Thompson said all elements of the previous curriculum would remain, although some subjects will be broached at a later grade and parents would have the option to opt-out.

She told reporters the curriculum would focus on safety, dealing with online threats, and bullying.

“They need to know how to respect each other and themselves. They need to know how to use technology safely, and quite frankly, they need to know what healthy relationships look like,” declared Thompson.

The conversation with students about consent will start in grade two, said Thompson, and will be mandatory. Students in grade eight will begin to learn about gender identity. It will also be mandatory.

Parents will have the option of opting out of other elements they are uncomfortable with their children learning in a classroom environment.

The way math is taught in schools will also change. Thompson did not say Ontario students will go back to drills but said over the next four years, there will be less ideology and greater emphasis on basic arithmetic and multiplication. High school students will also learn how to manage their own finances.

“We’re getting back to the basics. Less ideology and more skills,” she announced. “Our strategy will emphasis financial literacy by including it in mandatory curriculum in high school.”

The grade 3/4 class at St. Ursula Catholic School. March 27, 2017. (Photo by Natalia Vega)

Class sizes for students in kindergarten to grade three will not change and will remain at 22 students. In grades four to eight, one more student will be added to Ontario classrooms for a cap at 24.5 students. The biggest change will come for Ontario high school classrooms where classes will grow to 28 students, up from the current 22.

Thompson says the changes will be made over four years and without the loss of any teacher jobs but was unclear how the Ministry will achieve that goal. She said it would work with school boards to ensure there are no layoffs.

Hiring practices will also change. Thompson said too much emphasis had been placed on seniority. Now teachers’ specific skill sets will have a higher priority with a greater focus on so-called STEM subjects like science, technology, and math.

Tweaks are also coming for the province’s Education Quality and Accountability Office. It will be given a broader mandate and tests, long criticized as being inappropriate for some regions of the province and some socio-economic groups will be updated.

The government also intends to address inequities across school boards with regards to teaching materials by creating a new e-learning platform. Secondary school students will take a minimum of four e-learning credits to earn their diploma starting in 2020-21.

Thompson stressed to reporters that her government would continue to consult with parents, school boards, teachers and labour groups on further changes to the education system.

As for savings from the changes, Thompson says the announcement today will result in less than a one per cent cut in education’s total $25-billion budget.