A resource guide on the new sex-ed curriculum is making the rounds in the Muslim community, aimed at addressing parents’ concerns that their children will be getting information that directly conflicts with their religious beliefs.
Farrah Marfatia, principal of the Maingate Islamic Academy in Mississauga, wrote the guide, titled How to talk to your Muslim child about topics in the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Health Education Curriculum, 2015, over the summer, as a way to educate parents on what their children will be learning in class — and help them prepare for those sensitive discussions in advance.
How did this guide come about?
When the new curriculum came out, there was a lot of information and misinformation that was being thrown around. Personally, I was also confused about it, so when it came out I first read the document. It’s a huge document, and what kids will be learning is not all in one place, it’s scattered across the document. So, it started as a summary for me.
As an Islamic school principal, private schools are not required to cover the curriculum. But there are a lot of Muslim kids in the public school system, because parents can’t afford Islamic school, or there is no room in Islamic schools. And many parents don’t have the opportunity to home-school even if they want to. And I was thinking about those parents — how do I help public school parents who have no other choice to understand the curriculum from their religious point of view?
How did it come together?
I thought I should reach out to people in the public school system. So after I wrote it, I reached out to guidance counsellors and teachers in the public system, and they reviewed it and gave it their stamp of approval. And then, from a religious perspective, I consulted with three imams. One of the imams is also a certified teacher. We had a number of meetings, and they gave me their views from a religious perspective. Overall, about 20 people reviewed it.
We want to be clear that, from an Islamic perspective, the curriculum is not age-appropriate. But this guide is responding to the curriculum, because it’s here, so we have to deal with it.
Why is there a need for it?
I am a mom, so I couldn’t remove that perspective as I went through the curriculum. I kept thinking: How would I teach this to my own children? And I started thinking about other parents, and I thought they must feel powerless. Here’s this daunting curriculum that’s 300 pages long, and I thought: How will they navigate this? I just wanted to empower them, so they could see in very easy language what their kids will learn at every stage. And then, how do we approach it Islamically, when kids want to talk about it? We believe parents are the first educators, and this guide helps them to be the first educators.
What has the response been?
The response has been extremely positive. People are having a hard time understanding what’s going to happen in September. The summary provided them with that, and then gave them a jumping point to start discussions in their own homes. Without much advertising, the document has already had more than 2,500 views. I am so proud of our community leaders because they have backed it up, and see value in it.
And the good thing is, the document is one of those things that will continue to evolve. It is not stagnant. I am already working on a second edition with comments I have received. It truly is a document for the parents and by the parents.
If people take one thing from it, what would that be?
I want people to be empowered. I don’t want them to be scared anymore. There’s really nothing out there that addresses the curriculum from an Islamic context. There is a huge vacuum, and I want there to be something in that vacuum.