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Controversy could follow Quebec’s sex-education pilot project

Thousands of people gathered outside the Ontario Legislature on April 14, 2015, to protest the provincial government’s sex-ed curriculum.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The delicate question about the right age to talk about sex is likely to be at the heart of the debate surrounding Quebec's new sex-education pilot project, debuting in the coming weeks.

The project is expected to last two years and will debut this fall with sex-education classes in about 15 schools – French and English, public and private institutions – in all regions of the province.

The Canadian Press has learned that the province invested some $860,000 into managing the project over the past five years.

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In Ontario last year, the new sexual-education curriculum proved so controversial that thousands of parents pulled their children out of class. The ministry sought to calm the issue by telling parents their children could opt out.

Quebec's Education Department has remained mum on details of the course but has said no exemptions will be made.

Sexuality will be taught to students from kindergarten to high school – five hours a year at the primary level and 15 hours a year in high school minimum, integrated into regular class hours.

A compulsory course is to be introduced in 2017.

The Education Department hasn't disclosed which schools are part of the project but say parents will be well informed and teachers will receive all necessary training, including what qualifies as explicit content.

The material presented will take into consideration the age of the child, said Pascal Ouellet, a department spokesman.

While young elementary school children won't learn about sexual practices, by sixth grade, elementary school children will be exposed to the "sexual awakening" of adolescence and be reassured about certain events surrounding puberty such as spontaneous erections in boys, documents suggest.

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In high school, students will be directly informed about sexual practices and to reflect on "sexual intimacy" and motivations that would lead them to engage or not to engage in sexual intercourse.

Teachers aren't reassured. The government talks of "projects" or "workshops" without setting out clear pedagogical guidelines, says Josee Scalabriini, the head of the Federation of Teachers Unions.

"It's very worrisome," she says, especially since the department hasn't outlined what training will be offered or other specifics.

The province offered a half-day of training to school administrators and a day-and-a-half of training to those responsible for implementing the courses. They will decide what type of training will be necessary for teachers in the classroom.

No evaluation will take place of what has been learned so students won't undergo an examination on the contents.

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