New teachers in Ontario will soon graduate from college with an improved understanding of gender and sexuality to bring to the classroom, says queer activist Davina Hader.
Hader is part of a group, led by Toronto Centre Liberal MPP Glen Murray, that will soon be developing training for new teachers to focus on equity and diversity. “It’s incredible. It will be required for every teacher. This is pretty groundbreaking,” Hader says.
Schools must be accepting and welcoming for students and staff, Hader says. “And teachers’ curriculum is part of that change.”
Hader says the issue of inclusive education has been underscored this year as Ontario students have fought for gay-straight alliances (GSAs).
“The problem the Liberals have been up against with regard to GSAs is the separate school board,” Hader says. “Boards have been saying ministry policies are not enforceable because Catholic schools have special rights. Well, they can’t use that card anymore. This is a push for equality in education right across the board.
“With this we are teaching the people at the top, and they’re going to have to listen. It will be mandated as part of their curriculum. They won’t have a choice.”
Murray says new teachers will soon complete two years of training instead of one through the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). An increased focus on equity and diversity will be built into the new curriculum as a way for new teachers to better understand the gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans community.
The new curriculum is linked to the Ministry of Education’s new Accepting Schools Act, Murray says. It will be written over the course of 2012 and launched in 2013. The curriculum will be mandatory for all teachers, Catholic and secular.
“There will be increased training in sexual orientation and gender diversity,” he says.
Murray says he is currently consulting teachers unions, staff in education faculties, parents, queer advocacy groups, students and the larger community.
“The Accepting Schools Act is very clear,” Murray says. “Not only can schools not discriminate against gay, lesbian and trans students, schools must create healthy and welcoming spaces for everyone. That will be the policy of Ontario.
“We want all students and teachers to feel welcome in schools, not just tolerated.”
For now, the initiative will affect only teachers. But Hader says she would like to see the training extend to board administrators and trustees as well.
“Queer youth are being bullied and some are killing themselves,” she says. “This is something that will go a long way to help our youth and effectively change the way the next generation looks at queer people.”