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Education, Administration

Jesuites, religion courses, Knowledge Network, white society, educational television

The earliest Canadian schools date from the early 17th century and were conducted by French Catholic religious groups. Higher education began in 1635 with the founding of the College des Jesuites in the city of Quebec. It was not until the transfer of Canada from French to British jurisdiction in 1763 that an educational system began to emerge that augmented church schools with secular public schools and private schools. When the dominion was created in 1867, education was defined as a provincial responsibility, and it has remained so ever since.

There is no central ministry of education in Canada. The federal government steps in only for special populations outside normal provincial jurisdiction, such as inmates of federal prisons, the families of Canada’s armed forces, and indigenous peoples on reserves. Increasingly, indigenous groups are acquiring more control over their local educational programs.

Although education is administered by the government, churches frequently play an integral role in its delivery. Church-run schools that are alternatives to the secular system of elementary and secondary schools exist in all provinces and territories. Typically these schools receive state funding if they agree to teach the regular curriculum; in addition, they offer extra language and/or religion courses.

The vast, sparsely settled areas of Canada present special problems in delivering education. Initially, governments and religious groups established residential schools, especially for indigenous children, but these were never popular. The indigenous peoples saw them as a way for white society to dominate indigenous cultures. Eventually these schools were closed. A less centralized system emerged, which increasingly has been augmented with correspondence programs and more recently with educational television and teleconferencing. Some of the more successful distance education technologies, such as those developed by the Knowledge Network in British Columbia, have been exported to other provinces and countries.

Canadian educators are increasingly occupied with the issue of funding current education programs while budgets are shrinking. In 1997 all governments combined spent C$51.7 billion (equivalent to US$37.3 billion) on education, which was 6 percent of Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP). Almost all provincial governments have adopted deficit reduction strategies that make money increasingly less available for schools.

At the same time, schools must meet a number of demands. Many schools are faced with large numbers of immigrant children requiring language training. In Toronto and Vancouver, the two cities with the greatest ethnic diversity in Canada, more than half of all students in the regular school system did not learn English as their first language. In poor neighborhoods, the schools provide free or subsidized meals to many children. Schools are also facing a demand for sophisticated and expensive technological training to equip students for the future. At the individual school level, parents are demanding and receiving a greater say in policy-making and program choices. In response, provincial governments have attempted to deliver education services more efficiently by consolidating school districts and collaborating with other provinces.



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