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Calgary high school students demand better sexual health education | Calgary Herald

Senior high students in Alberta are required to take a course called Career and Life Management, or CALM, which includes an optional human sexuality component. However, students said the course tends to focus on abstinence without mentioning consent. Most students also take the online course instead of the in-person course with no teacher-led discussion.

A day before the walkout at Western was organized, school administration announced that students in CALM would be starting a project on consent starting Nov. 22 using a course outline for high school students by the University of Calgary.

Tired of hearing students joke about sexual violence in school, Clark and Grade 12 student Livia Ion decided to take matters into their own hands. The two young women created the Committee on the Status of Women and Girls last November.

The student-led committee organizes guest speakers to talk about sexual health, consent and sexual violence. Members of the sexual violence subcommittee are currently working on a list of resources and action items for survivors of sexual assault. Since it started last year, the committee has grown to include 60 students.

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“Students come up to us as individuals and thank us for the work that we’re doing, or tell us that they feel safer in the school because the committee like this exists,” Ion said. “It’s these little conversations from students themselves who feel safer because of the work we do that is the biggest success.”

Students who spoke to Postmedia said they want professionally trained experts to come in to schools to teach sexuality and consent. They also want education to start from an early age so bodily autonomy, consent and sexual health become normalized in curriculums.

“That’s why it’s such a taboo topic. People just think, all of a sudden now that you’ve reached a certain age, you can learn about consent,” Ion said. “No. It’s about respecting somebody’s space and not touching them unless you ask them if it’s OK … these are things that should be taught from a young age.”

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“They told us that they didn’t need our services anymore, that teachers were now going to be teaching sexual health education,” said Pam Krause, president of the centre. “The problem now, though, is teachers don’t have curriculum in university to teach sexual health, particularly comprehensive. So teachers have to learn on the fly.

“If they’re going to put lots of resources into (training), then teachers can build up their skills. But I’m not convinced that has happened in a robust way … you don’t move from having outside people teaching youth in September to figuring it out on your own. I don’t think that that’s the best path forward.”

Joanne Pitman, superintendent of school improvement with the Calgary Board of Education, said teachers have been providing and recording webinars to support teaching sexual health around consent and sexual violence, along with resources and lesson plans.

Sex education across Canada is very inconsistent in terms of what students are learning, explained Makeda Zook, health promotion and education officer with Action Canada SHR — not just between provinces, but from classroom to classroom.

For the report, Action Canada SHR did content audits of each of the curriculums in the provinces and territories. Quebec is the only province that has specifically said that there will be no exemptions from sex ed content. Alberta, Ontario and Prince Edward Island are the three provinces that make their parental opt-out policies well known.

“Opt-out policies are a big problem,” she said. “Sex ed, especially more recently, is being used like political football or a hot potato. It’s heavily politicized, and gets people’s fear up.”

In fact, the report notes, studies have shown sex ed does not increase sexual activity, sexual risk-taking behaviour, or STI and HIV rates. Comprehensive sex ed leads to better knowledge and attitudes around sexuality, including increased knowledge of rights within a sexual relationship, increased communication with parents about sex and relationships, and greater effectiveness when managing risky situations.

When asked about CBE’s decision to end the partnership, Zook said teachers often do not have the proper time or resources to properly teach sex education.

“Sex education is not given the importance that it should be given. It’s not considered as essential or rigorous as like math or science or English, partially because of the stigma and taboo around sex and sexuality that still permeates every aspect of our culture.”

Sexuality is a normal part of the human experience, Zook said, and sex education should be considered a human right and a form of public health intervention.

“It’s prevention of sexual violence. It’s prevention of bullying, it’s prevention of (sexually transmitted disease) and unplanned pregnancies. The more that we normalize it and challenge the stigma, the more we will see this as a life-saving public health intervention.”

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