02/23/2015 10:33 EST | Updated 04/25/2015 05:59 EDT

New Ontario sex ed curriculum will be taught by September

The Ontario government says its new sex education curriculum, which will start in Grade 1 and later involve discussions on the dangers of sexting, will be taught starting in September.

Education Minsiter Liz Sandals officially unveiled the new curriculum at a news conference Monday, saying the government won't back down in the face of criticism as it did in 2010 when religious groups complained about proposed revisions.

Sandals said she anticipates some criticism, but the new lessons are key to keeping children safe.

"This will be the curriculum that is taught in Ontario schools in September 2015," Sandals said, noting training for teachers has already been scheduled.

Sandals said many aspects of the curriculum, like telling children they have the right to say no to unwanted touching, remains the same. However, due to public health data that shows children are experiencing puberty earlier, some topics are being introduced at earlier ages.

"We need to deal with the fact that our kids are starting to go through puberty much younger than they used to," said Sandals.

The new curriculum, which marks the first time sex education courses in Ontario have been updated since 1998, also includes more information about the role technology plays in youth sexuality.

Sandals said she hopes frank discussions about the risks of sharing explicit content online will cut down on the inappropriate material children are sharing online.

Parents will get resources, too

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of a "quick facts" guide for parents that outlines some of the changes, including many that relate to technology.

The guide says students in Grades 1, 2 and 3 will learn initial searching skills and strategies for safe internet use, including "how to get help for themselves or others if harassment or abuse happens either face-to-face or online."

The primary grade students will also learn the difference between real and fictional violence, in the media or with online games, and "respectful communications" in the gym, classroom and school yard.

Even some elementary school students have sent sexually explicit pictures of themselves to someone online, while 11 per cent of Grade 10 students and about 14 per cent of those in Grade 11 say they have sent a sext, according to a 2015 study, Young Canadians in a Wired World.

"As students get older, they are more likely to sext," the guide warns parents. "Many students are unaware of the potential effects and consequences of sexting."