Schools are often a hotbed of hormonal stress, daunting career worries and the odd (or often, no judgment) bout of socializing. Amidst all of this it is easy to pass over some of the most critical information being taught in the education system.
Sexuality education is a mandatory part of the Manitoba school curriculum and is taught in conjunction with health and physical education.
“Without a doubt sexuality education is critical,” Roselle Paulsen, director of programs at Sexuality Education Resource Centre Manitoba (SERC) says. “It has to be there. It’s as important as any other subject.”
Sex ed provides students with information and skills used to make healthy and knowledgeable decisions regarding themselves and others when it comes to sexual health. The program also recognizes that students need opportunities in which to develop those skills and the opportunity to address and process their own attitudes and beliefs.
“I’ve been at this job for more than 40 years and I’m still amazed at the cyclical nature of issues,” Paulsen says. “For example, things like sexual assault, date rape, coercive behaviours, these issues will come up again and again and it just proves that we have to be vigilant.
“Society is always changing and so we will always be having to deal with issues around respect, social justice and equality. It never goes away.”
When it comes to outreach, SERC offers a radio show on CKUW, programs aimed towards newcomer groups and the Aboriginal community, a large resource distribution program, a confidential online question and answer program, in addition to community services to parents, adults and youth.
“I think the work we do can really have an impact on people’s lives,” Paulsen says. “If we’re offering teacher training with teachers returning to the classroom to teach sexuality education in a way that speaks to youth, that allows people to really look at the issues in depth and practice the skills to be better equipped to make healthy decisions. That’s really valuable.”
The Winnipeg School Division also has resources (Family Life Education Resource) which teachers can use when broaching the subject as well as provide teacher training in support of the existing curriculum.
“Basically it’s informed decision making,” Nori Korsunsky, a health education consultant for the Winnipeg School Division says. “We want kids to have the knowledge, the personal insight, the motivation and the behaviour skills that are consistent with personal values and family values.”
While in some cases much of health and sex education is learned at home, Korsunsky notes that approximately 80 per cent of parents are happy with content being taught in schools. With hyper-sexualized imagery accessible by the swipe of a finger across an iPad, kids are being exposed to mixed messages at an early age.
“If a kid is exposed to something, you can’t take that back,” Korsunsky explains. “They need to know how to critically analyze and they need a frame of reference for what exactly is healthy behaviour.”
These learned behaviours taught in schools will ideally follow students into adulthood.
“Kids need to know how the body works,” Korsunsky says. “The more knowledge you have the more control you have. Knowledge is power.”
For more information on what the curriculum offers, please visit www.sieccan.org. If you’re wondering about services offered in Manitoba, please visit www.serc.mb.ca.