Premier-designate Doug Ford’s promise to roll back Ontario’s updated sexual-health curriculum is being met with frustration from educators, who argue that the current syllabus addresses the realities children face and wonder what other impact his government will have on the classroom.
At his first news conference on Friday, following an election victory for his Progressive Conservatives, Mr. Ford did not directly answer a question about whether the curriculum would be scrapped and replaced before the start of the new school year.
“I’ll sit down with our new cabinet and with the Minister of Education and discuss that with them,” he said. “But I can tell you one thing, we’re repealing it. I’ll tell you another thing, we keep our promises.”
Mr. Ford’s pledge to repeal and replace the human-development and sexual-health component of the wider health and physical-education curriculum is not only weak on details, but it doesn’t include a timeline – much like the rest of his education platform. The Conservatives have also promised to ban cellphones in all primary and secondary classrooms to “maximize learning time,” scrap “discovery” math and “fix” the province’s standardized-testing regime.
“We are very unclear in terms of where we’re headed,” said Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. He added that he’s “fearful” of Mr. Ford’s long-repeated promise to cut $6-billion in existing government spending, and what that could mean for classrooms.
During the campaign, Mr. Ford said many parents felt “ignored” when the sexual-health curriculum was rolled out in 2015. It handles such topics as acceptance of same-sex couples, online safety and consent.
Educators hailed it as a necessary update (it was last done in 1998), but opponents, mainly faith groups and socially conservative family organizations, labelled it as age-inappropriate and argued that parents should provide such information.
Tanya Granic Allen, whom Mr. Ford removed as a Conservative candidate over homophobic statements and who has been a strong opponent of the sex-ed curriculum, said she was pleased the premier-designate “recommitted to a full repeal,” but said it is “unacceptable” he did not commit to a timeline.
“Ontario parents expect it to be gone by the time school begins in September,” said Ms. Granic Allen, who heads the group Parents as First Educators.
But Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), said his association would oppose the repeal, and that the curriculum was “been appropriately modernized.”
Mr. Bischof said the OSSTF is willing to work with the new government. The union, however, would “tenaciously oppose any policies or measures that seek to undermine publicly funded education, be it through underfunding or any other means,” he said.
Mr. Ford has also promised to change the math curriculum so that students would focus on basic arithmetic rather than discovery, or creative, strategies. Ontario‘s test scores in math have fallen and stagnated in recent years, and those who have petitioned for changes say that students are not learning basic concepts.
Mary Reid, an assistant professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, said she doesn’t believe that inquiry-based math needs to be removed, but rather the curriculum needs to be revamped so that students are learning both operational skills and problem-solving.
Annie Kidder, the executive director for the advocacy group People for Education, said she is hoping there are no sudden pendulum swings in education. She said that while kids need to write, read and do math well, a changing economy means they also need problem-solving, critical-thinking and creativity skills.
“We can’t go back to a narrow definition of the basics,” Ms. Kidder said.