Sexual Health Education Outcomes within Canada's Elementary Health Education Curricula: A Summary and Analysis

By Robinson, Daniel B.; MacLaughlin, Vikki et al. | The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, December 2019 | Go to article overview

Sexual Health Education Outcomes within Canada's Elementary Health Education Curricula: A Summary and Analysis


Robinson, Daniel B., MacLaughlin, Vikki, Poole, Jason, The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality


There continues to be much concern about Canadian students' access to sexual health education within their schools' health education programs. This concern continues in a largely unique national context--one in which health education curricula vary across all territories and provinces. At the same time, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, 2018) has recently published its updated International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education. These UNESCO guidelines provide key concepts, topics, and technical guidance about sexual health-related topics that are advisable for students in all grades, including for those students in Kindergarten/Primary (K/P) through Grade 6. In this article, we provide a summary and critical analysis of sexual health education outcomes within all of Canada's elementary health education curricula. This summary and analysis should be of particular relevance to those who share an interest in health education and/ or sexual health education, particularly within Canadian and/or other Western schooling contexts.

KEY WORDS: Curriculum, health education, outcomes, primary/elementary school, public education, sexual health education

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Education within Canada falls entirely under regional jurisdiction whereby individual territories/provinces make all curriculum decisions (Levin & Young, 2002). Although the Federal Government, its various departments, and the non-governmental organizations it partly funds may offer recommendations about what should be included in school curricula, ultimately all curriculum-related decisions lie in the hands of territorial/provincial ministries of education (Hickson, Robinson, Berg, & Hall, 2012; Kilborn, Lorusso, & Francis, 2016). It is also noteworthy that due to smaller populations and related logistical difficulties, the northern territories of Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut have adopted many curricula from neighbouring provinces (Hickson et al., 2012; Kilborn et al, 2016). Further, educational mandates and initiatives introduced by these territories/provinces are systematically introduced and implemented within a large number of publicly funded school jurisdictions across the nation. These publicly funded schools can be further delineated to include English--and French-language secular and Catholic schools, as well as federally-funded First Nations education systems. (As is the case within many other Western nations, Canada has additional school possibilities including, for example, charter and private schools. Publicly funded charter schools must adopt territorial/provincial curricula, while private schools may or may not.)

Given this landscape, there is a complete absence of a common curriculum within Canada (Lu & McLean, 2011). That is, one cannot identify the curriculum outcomes-related to knowledge, skills, and attitudes--that all students within Canada are meant to acquire. As is likely the case within some other subject areas, health education has risked suffering the consequences of such fragmentation. We believe this is especially true when one considers the curriculum differentiation that exists related to sexual health education across the country. In light of these observations, we have found a need to complete and offer a clear and critical account of sexual health education outcomes (SHEOs) within Canada's elementary health education curricula. While we recognize that sexual health education ideally occurs in all grade levels (or at least in the first 10 years of schooling when health education is generally a compulsory course), our focus here is limited to elementary education. Such a focus is not meant to be suggestive of any greater relative importance. Rather, we have chosen a focused scope that addresses the grade levels and curricula with which we are most engaged and interested.

ELEMENTARY HEALTH EDUCATION IN CANADA: A BRIEF OVERVIEW

Elementary health education curricula vary considerably across Canada. …

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