11 Module 11: Education

Susan Robertson

Figure 16.1. Filmmaker Victor Masayesva teaches about Hopi Indian culture in an Indigenous studies class at Point Grey Secondary, Vancouver. Schools teach us far more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. They also socialize us to cultural norms and expectations. (Photo courtesy of Victor Masayesva/flickr)

Learning Objectives

  • Elaborate the meaning of education and describe the focus of the sociology of education.
  • Identify major events and motivations for the development of mass education in Canada.
  • Describe the structure of educational governance in Canada and explain why the structure of educational governance in Canada is decentralized.
  • Discuss differences between mainstream and alternative schooling.
  • Describe how the Canadian educational curriculum has been shaped by socio-historical, political and economic forces.
  • Explain how the socio-economic status of family can impact on a student’s educational outcomes.
  • Describe how the global economic crisis is related to education in Canada.
  • Identify the ways in which neoliberalism has influenced education in Canada at both the K-12 and post-secondary levels.

 11.0 Introduction to Education

On any given day in Canada, there is likely to be a major news item that features the topic of education. Whether it is about the value of a university degree, the cost of education, the working conditions of teachers, or achievements of students, education is of great concern and interest to policy makers, politicians, and Canadians in general. There is a common belief in Canadian society (and beyond) that education is essential to ensure a good quality of life and that education holds the key to an individual’s success. Parents who hope their children have a better standard of living than they did will more often than not point to education as being the major determining factor in this outcome. This is particularly true if the parents are recent immigrants (Krahn and Taylor 2005), because the parents very likely settled in Canada to improve the prospects of their children. Education, therefore, is regarded as something to be attained in order to ensure future economic security, social status, and perhaps even social and psychological well-being.

From the moment a child is born, his or her education begins. At first, education is an informal process in which an infant watches others and imitates them. As the infant grows into a young child, the process of education becomes more formal through play dates and preschool. Once in grade school, academic lessons become the focus of education as a child moves through the school system. But even then, education is about much more than the simple learning of facts.

Our education system also socializes us to our society. We learn cultural expectations and norms, which are reinforced by our teachers, our textbooks, and our classmates. (For students outside the dominant culture, this aspect of the education system can pose significant challenges.) You might remember learning your multiplication tables in grade 2 and also learning the social rules of taking turns on the swings at recess. You might recall learning about the Canadian parliamentary process in a social studies course as well as learning when and how to speak up in class.

Schools can be agents of change or conformity, teaching individuals to think outside of the family and the local norms into which they were born, while at the same time acclimatizing them to their tacit place in society. They provide students with skills for communication, social interaction, and work discipline that can create pathways to both independence and obedience.

In terms of socialization, the modern system of mass education is second only to the family in importance. It promotes two main socializing tasks: homogenization and social sorting. Students from diverse backgrounds learn a standardized curriculum that effectively transforms diversity into homogeneity. Students learn a common knowledge base, a common culture, and a common sense of society’s official priorities, and perhaps more importantly, they learn to locate their place within it. They are provided with a unifying framework for participation in institutional life and at the same time are sorted into different paths. Those who demonstrate facility within the standards established by curriculum or through the informal patterns of status differentiation in student social life are set on trajectories to high-status positions in society. Those who do less well are gradually confined to lower, subordinate positions in society. Within the norms established by school curriculum and teaching pedagogies, students learn from a very early age to identify their place as A, B, C, etc. level vis-à-vis their classmates. In this way, schools are profound agencies of normalization.

The sociology of education is a branch of sociology that studies how social structures affect education as well as the various outcomes of education. As discussed in earlier modules, social structures in general refer to enduring patterns of social arrangement. Sociologists see social structure in all aspects of society. For example, as discussed earlier in this course social class is a social structure that generally refers to the socioeconomic background of an individual and his or her family. Social class has been found to impact on many aspects of life that are related to education, including educational achievement (i.e., grades), educational attainment (highest qualification), and future aspirations. Other examples of social structures are bureaucracy, legal systems, the family, religion, race, gender and sexuality. These are all enduring patterns of social relations that are observable in society—groupings that are entrenched in our collective minds and that guide our behaviours and shape our life outcomes.

The sociology of education is a way of examining education in order to understand how social structures shape various aspects of education. Indeed, these social structures shape not only how we understand education, but also how it has been designed over the years, how the structure of education systems exists today, and the various outcomes associated with educational credentials.

Prior to examining the history, structure and organization of education in Canada and elsewhere, it is useful to reflect on what it means to be ‘educated’.  Noam Chomsky’s insights into being truly educated are provided as a point of departure for critically reflecting on your own views about what it means to be educated.

11.1 Historical Overview of Education in Canada

Mass public schooling began in Canada in the mid-1850s. In the previous half of the nineteenth century, parents of the middle class were accustomed to paying for their children’s education through private and voluntary sources (Gidney and Millar 1985). But what were the social conditions that led to its creation? Many accounts of the history of the education system in Canada, particularly accounts prior to the 1960s, represent it as the “triumph of great men” (Di Mascio 2010:36) who created an education system in an effort to overcome increasing class inequalities. Such a publicly funded education system would reduce the disadvantages faced by poor children.

Interpretations from the 1960s forward, however, have challenged the traditional readings of educational history (Di Mascio 2010:36). Newer interpretations understand early school advocates as elite “school promoters” who founded the public school system as a means of entrenching a certain type of values on the growing Canadian population: middle class, British, and Christian (usually Protestant). But the social processes behind the eventual acceptance of mass schooling are more complex than the visions of a few prominent men. Along with mass schooling came great political and cultural struggles. The marginalization of Catholics and francophones outside Quebec and attempts to “assimilate” them—as well as all other non-British Protestants—can be argued to be the major underlying project of much controversial school legislation.

Di Mascio (2010) and Prentice and Houston (1975) argue that writings in the first Toronto newspaper, the Upper Canada Gazette in the early 1800s, provide considerable evidence that “education” was largely about training children into the correct values and morals, which were those that supported the monarchy and Christianity. While rearing children was traditionally the role of the family, an increasing discourse found in these early writings presents this as an important task for an expanding education system.

Houston (1972) details how the common social problems of the day were again thought to be cured by mass schooling. Social problems were blamed upon immigrant families from lower social classes (mostly Irish-famine settlers), who were accused by British elites of not raising their children properly. A prominent education reform advocate of the time, Charles Duncombe, commented in 1836:

Every person that frequents the streets of this city [Toronto] must be forcibly struck with the ragged and uncleanly appearance, the vile language, and the idle and miserable habits of numbers of children, most of whom are of an age suitable for schools, or for some useful employment. The parents of these children are, in all probability, too poor, too degenerate to provide them with clothing for them to be seen in at school; and know not where to place them in order that they may find employment, or be better cared for.13

Schooling was touted as a means to reduce juvenile delinquency and adult criminality that was perceived to be inextricably linked to ignorance and poverty. Therefore, the relation of crime reduction to public schooling became increasingly used in debates around mass schooling, particularly when trying to convince the public that any proposed tax levies would be for the good of all, not just the impoverished and immoral (Houston 1972).

In addition to fixing the ills of society, much discourse around public schooling in the 1840s by Ryerson and others relates to how mass schooling would be a “powerful instrument of British Constitution” (Houston 1972:263). To Ryerson, the content of schooling would not have any American or “anti-British” sentiment at all, and this is evidenced in his insistence that American textbooks not be used and his restriction of American teachers in the mid-1840s. Public schooling was seen as a way to maintain and foster a sense of Britishness in Upper Canada that may have been perceived to be under threat given large waves of immigration at the time. According to Houston (1972), the massive influx of famine Irish in 1847 gave much thrust to Ryerson’s claims that if mass public schooling were not provided, the future of the new colony was at grave risk.

There are other social aspects to the general acceptance of the idea of mass schooling, apart from “proper socialization,” that have been considered by historical researchers. Errington (1993), for example, found evidence that many families in Upper Canada were often in search of educational opportunities for their children, but could not afford to send their children due to economic constraints and the workloads associated with life at that time. Gaffield (1991) argues that as land inheritances dwindled for the offspring of Upper Canadian children, families were looking for other ways to ensure a future for their children, and education was seen as a way of substituting for land inheritance.

As schooling expanded, so too did the number of teachers. The number of teachers in Canada has “marched steadily forward” (Harrigan 1992), from 13 000 in 1870 to over 329 000 in 2006.14

The occupation of teaching was one of the only viable non-manual occupational choices for young, unmarried women in the early to mid portion of the twentieth century, although it did not pay any better than stenography or skilled factory work. Women have represented over half of all teachers in Canada since 1870, with percentages above 80 from 1905–1930. This increase of women in teaching not only in Canada, but in the Western world in general, has been referred to as the feminization of the teaching corps. Harrigan (1992) estimates that between 1910 and 1930, one in six women between the ages of 20 and 40 was or had been a teacher. Similarly, in the period between the two World Wars and for the 20 years following the Second World War, one in six women would become teachers at the age of 20, with higher rates among the middle class. Various reasons for the feminization of the occupation have been offered, including the absence of other opportunities, the expansion of schooling, urbanization, and gender stereotypes (Harrigan 1992).

While women comprised the majority of teachers, they often worked for less pay—less than half in the nineteenth century—than their male counterparts. Women often were allocated to teaching elementary grades due to the perception that they could not control older children and that they were more suited to providing the nurturing required by younger students (Prentice 1977). Male teachers, in contrast, often became school administrators (Prentice 1977). And in the nineteenth century, women who married could no longer remain teachers because being married made them ineligible to be considered “professional.” Prentice (1977) argues that expansion of elementary schooling at the beginnings of Canadian educational history was largely attributable to the “cheap” labour of female teachers. The pay gap between male and female teachers has closed in recent decades, however, in no small part due to the role of teachers’ unions and federations.

Confederation occurred in 1867, which introduced the British North America Act. This Constitution contained an important clause, Section 93, which made matters of education a jurisdictional (rather than federal) matter. It also allowed for the protection of denominational schools where they legally existed beforehand. As other provinces and territories joined Confederation, the adaptation of Section 93 determined if and how separate schools would be accommodated. Provincial “schools questions” arose, often transforming into significant divisive federal political issues when the rights of francophone and Catholic minorities in the provinces were eroded by the prevailing wishes of the Protestant and English-speaking majorities.

Public schooling developed at different times and at different paces in various parts of the country, depending upon the settlement patterns of the area. In addition to the creation of mass public schooling, many Indigenous children were subjected to the residential schooling system in Canada, which began in 1880 and carried on for nearly 100 years. Other forms of racial segregation also occurred within the public schooling system in various parts of the country. Black students attended segregated schools in many parts of Ontario and Nova Scotia, while Japanese and Chinese students faced segregation in British Columbia.

11.2 The Structure of Education in Canada

11.2.1 Pre-elementary, Elementary and Secondary Programs

Uniquely, Canada is the only country in the world with no federal education department (OECD 2011). Instead, the 13 jurisdictions (10 provinces and 3 territories) are responsible for the delivery, organization, and evaluation of education. This decentralization of decision making to individual jurisdictions was determined in 1867 and is explicitly declared in Canada’s Constitution Act. One reason for this decentralization was to protect the interests of the different populations who inhabited the particular parts of the country, as strong ethnic and religious differences existed by region.

The structure of education is, however, very similar across the country, although there are notable differences between jurisdictions, which are due to the unique historical, cultural, geographical, and political circumstances upon which they were developed. Each jurisdiction is guided by its own Education Act, which is a detailed legal document that outlines how education will be organized and delivered, along with student eligibility criteria, duties of employees (teachers, principals, superintendents, and support staff), accountability measures, and different types of programs available.

There are many costs associated with education, including the staffing of institutions at various levels and the cost of the land and buildings (and their maintenance) in which they are housed. In 2006, Canada spent 6.1 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on education (Canadian Education Statistics Council 2010).

Education spending in relation to GDP is often used in international comparisons because the amount of money a country spends on education is regarded as a measure by which to evaluate the relative importance that a country places on the education and training of its citizens. Such investments are known to improve the economic productivity of a country and promote economic growth. The average amount spent by the OECD countries was 5.7 percent. In Canada, around 40 percent of the 6.1 percent was invested in tertiary education, which places Canada (along with the United States) as the largest spender on this segment of the educational sector. The amount of money spent on education from all three levels of government each year is about $80 billion and represents around a quarter of total public expenditures.

In general, education in Canada can be split into four distinct sets of programs: pre-elementary, elementary, secondary, and post-secondary.

In Canada, public education is free to all Canadian citizens and permanent residents. All jurisdictions require mandatory attendance for children and youth between certain ages, although this varies by area. The age at which schooling becomes compulsory is generally around 6 or 7 (as of a certain date determined by the jurisdiction). Compulsory education ages are obviously lower for jurisdictions where pre-elementary is also mandatory, like New Brunswick. The minimum age at which youth may terminate their school attendance also varies by jurisdiction. In most jurisdictions, the age is 16. In recent years, attention has been paid to increasing the age at which youth can leave school. The rationale for such an age increase is that in order for young adults to have the necessary skills to compete in the labour market, they will require the basic skills of education that is provided up to the age of 18. Much research also points to the poor employment prospects for high school dropouts. New Brunswick increased its age of compulsory education from 16 to 18 in 1999, as did Ontario in 2007.1 At the time of writing, the government of Alberta was currently moving toward increasing the school-leaving age from 16 to 17.

In Canada, public education from kindergarten to the end of secondary education is provided free of charge to Canadian citizens and residents if they complete their secondary education by a certain age maximum (often 19). Expenditure on public education comes from municipal, provincial, federal, and private sources. Schools receive a per-pupil amount, which is a fixed amount of money for each student enrolled in the school (or in secondary school may be associated with number of credit hours in which the student is enrolled). In some jurisdictions, private schools also receive funding. Private schools, or independent schools, are different from public schools in that they do not receive (complete) funding from any government sources and can select their own students and charge tuition. In general, private schools that receive no government funding are not required to follow the provincial or territorial curriculum. Six jurisdictions provide partial funding for private schools (a percentage of the provincial per pupil amount) if they meet certain criteria, such as following the provincial/territorial curriculum and employing provincially certified teachers.

Public and separate school systems that are publicly funded serve about 93 percent of all students in Canada. Jurisdictions west of (and including) Quebec provide partial funding for private schools if certain criteria, which vary among jurisdictions, are met. No funding for private schools is provided in the other jurisdictions, although they still may be regulated.

The term school governance refers to the way that a school system is governed, or run. At the provincial and territorial levels, each province/territory has at least one department or ministry that is responsible for education, which is headed by a publicly elected minister who is appointed to this position by the party leader of the province/territory. At the provincial/territorial government level, these ministries and departments define the policy and legislative frameworks to guide practice and also function to provide administrative and financial management.8

At a local level, the governance of education lies in the hands of smaller units. These units vary in what they are called and how individuals acquire positions in such organizations. These local units of governance are called school boards, school divisions, school districts, or district education councils. Their powers and tasks vary according to provincial and territorial jurisdiction, but usually include the administration of a group of schools (including the financial aspects), setting of school policies, hiring of teachers, curriculum implementation, and decisions surrounding new major expenditures. All provinces and territories have public school boards, which represent the local governance of public education for K–12 education in a particular geographic region. Historically, school boards have been regarded as democratically elected organizations which give the public a say in elementary and secondary education (Howell 2005). In addition to public school boards, separate school boards also exist in some provinces.

In all provinces and territories, the local governance of education is staffed with locally elected officials, who run during municipal elections. Often these officials are called school trustees. Depending on the province or territory, school trustee positions are often voluntary or associated with a small stipend rather than being a full-time paid position. School boards meet regularly throughout the school year and the public are often invited to attend meetings. School trustees will have different jobs depending on the particular jurisdiction in which they are working. In some jurisdictions, school boards have the authority to levy a local tax on property to supplement local education. In such jurisdictions, such school boards have more control over the budgets of their district.

In addition to school boards and trustees, school boards are usually responsible for hiring a board superintendent, who serves as the chief executive officer for that school board. The superintendent is not a member of the school board but oversees the general supervision of the school system and implements policies that the board recommends.

School councils are also an important part of the structure of education in Canada. They usually are made up of parent volunteers, teachers, non-teaching staff, community members, and sometimes students who provide recommendations to the school principal and, in some cases, the school board. Many school councils are also active in organizing social events and fundraising. School councils have become required in many jurisdictions, which is one way the government has created parental involvement in education (Brien and Stelmach 2009), although critics may see it as a way of regulating parental involvement in education.

In Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario, separate school boards operate along with public school boards.  Separate school boards are denominationally based and generally represent schools that are associated with the Catholic faith, although a handful of Protestant school boards do exist. Separate school boards have their roots in the British North America (Constitution) Act of 1867, which provided some protection for denominational schools that existed prior to Confederation. The purpose of the act was to protect and prevent provincial governments from tampering with denominational schools that existed in Upper and Lower Canada prior to Confederation (at the time, entirely Protestant and Catholic, representing the English and French) and to protect minorities living in each part of Canada (Protestants in Lower Canada, Catholics in Upper Canada). The Protestant school boards in English Canada largely moved into the secular school system.

The term alternative school very broadly refers to a school that differs somehow in its delivery of education from mainstream public schools. In many provinces, alternative schools exist within the public school system. In general, alternative schools emphasize particular languages, cultures (e.g., Indigenous), or subject matter (e.g., arts), or they use a specific teaching philosophy. Often, alternative schools at the high school level are geared specifically toward children and youth who are deemed to be at a high risk of dropping out of school. For example, the alternative school programs in British Columbia and Quebec are mostly dedicated to this population and often have classroom setups, schedules, and curricula that are modified to accommodate this particular group of young people. Many alternative schools also emphasize small class sizes and year-round programming.

In Alberta, for example, publicly funded and administered alternative programs specialize in fine arts, French immersion, German, hockey, science, and Montessori. Montessori is a teaching philosophy developed by Italian educator Maria Montessori in the late nineteenth century that focuses on learning through child-centred and child-led experiential learning and by the natural development of children’s learning through pursuing their interests, rather than formal teaching practices. Montessori schools are generally oriented toward young children. In Ontario, a wide variety of alternative schools are offered by the district school boards, particularly in urban centres like Ottawa and Toronto.

Charter schools are special types of alternative schools that are semi-autonomous, tuition-free public education institutions that are unique in that they organize the delivery of education in a specialized way that is thought to enhance student learning. Currently in Canada, charter schools exist only in Alberta, and have been part of that province’s education system since 1994. Charter schools deliver the provincially mandated curriculum in a unique way that is spelled out in its charter, which is a formal agreement between the administration of the charter school and the minister of learning.

Charter schools provide basic education in a unique, different, or “enhanced” manner that characterizes the charter school in its own unique way. One major difference between charter schools and other alternative schools is that the governance of charter schools is undertaken by members of the charter board instead of the local school authority or district. The charter board typically comprises parents, teachers, and community members, unlike the governance of other public schools, which is undertaken by officials elected by public ballot.

In general, private schools are schools that are owned and operated outside of the public authority (Magnuson 1993). In Canada, private schools often do not receive any government funding and instead charge tuition fees. Because education is a provincial matter, however, the funding of private schools varies across Canada. In British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec, some funding is given to private schools, provided they meet a variety of conditions, such as employing accredited teachers and teaching the provincial curriculum. Alberta provides the largest funding of private schools in Canada, funding up to 70 percent of the per student amount.

The regulation of private schools varies greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Those that partially fund students require that students meet a number of conditions, while those that do not receive funding are not subject to monitoring. In Ontario, the private schools are neither funded nor monitored, except at the secondary level in the case where the school is offering credits toward the Ontario Secondary School Diploma.

Around 7 percent of all school-aged children in Canada attend private schools, which has grown slightly from 1994 when the figure was around 4.5 percent (Lefebvre, Merrigan, and Verstraete 2011). The numbers, however, vary considerably among the jurisdictions. Around 10 percent of all school-aged children in Quebec are in subsidized private education. In British Columbia, the total percentage of school-aged children in subsidized private education is around 9 percent, compared to just under 5 percent in Alberta and around one percent in Saskatchewan (Lefebvre, Merrigan, and Verstraete 2011, citing Marois 2005). 

In Canada, the best-known private school is Upper Canada College, which is a boys’ school located in Toronto that has been in operation since 1829. Upper Canada College has among its alumni several lieutenants governor, premiers, and mayors. The school has a reputation for being the school of choice for wealthy and influential Canadians, having tuition fees of around $30 000 per year.

In Canada, home-based learning, or home schooling, is permitted in all provinces and territories. In such arrangements, children do not attend school, but are educated at home, usually by a parent. Because each province and territory has its own Education Act, the regulations around home schooling vary by jurisdiction. In the majority of jurisdictions home schooled students must be registered with the department of education. In Saskatchewan, parents must apply to the local school authority for permission to home school their children.

Funding for home schooled children also varies considerably by jurisdiction, with the majority offering no funding to parents who home school. Notable exceptions are British Columbia, which funds $250 per home schooled child if that child is registered with the public school district, and Alberta, which gives 16 percent of the basic per-pupil amount directly to the parent. In some jurisdictions, home schooled students registered with the local school district have access to textbooks, learning materials, and equipment.

While home schooled children typically follow provincial curricula, an alternative approach to home schooling is called unschooling, a term coined by home schooling advocate John Holt (Holt 1981). Holt believed that the schools system was fundamentally flawed, and therefore heavily endorsed home schooling. He believed, however, that to replicate a classroom experience in the home would be to replicate the flaws in the present system. He believed that children are natural students possessing great curiosity and are eager to learn when they are free to pursue their own interests.

 Unschooling is home-based education without curriculum, schedules, tests, or grades. The approach is entirely child-led. Topics are pursued as children show interest in them. It is not known how many children are “unschooled” in Canada as they would usually be classified as home schooled.

Listen to CBC Radio One,  “Unschooling: Part Two

The Canadian Charter guarantees parents the right to educate their children in their first language if it is English or French. French-language schools are present in every province and territory, and in order to attend a child must have at least one parent who is a native French speaker.

French immersion programs are for students whose first language is not French and is available in all jurisdictions, except New Brunswick. All classes are taught in French except for English. The goal of French immersion education is to develop linguistic excellence in the French language. In New Brunswick, changes in 2008 resulted in the termination of French immersion programs, which were replaced by intensive French instruction for all anglophone students beginning in Grade 5.

French immersion is widely supported because it promotes bilingualism. Some critics, however, have argued that French immersion actually promotes streaming of children. Willms (2008) found that French immersion students differ from English instruction students in a variety of important ways. French immersion students tend to be from significantly higher socioeconomic backgrounds, less likely to be male, less likely to have a learning disability (or be in special education), and have better performance on standardized tests. These differences are not the outcome of French immersion per se, but rather factor into the selection of students into such programs. Because French immersion programs are academically challenging, higher-ability children are more likely to be enrolled in such programs, while children who struggle in school would be discouraged from enrolling. Children in French immersion also come from higher socioeconomic backgrounds and are more likely to have parents with university degrees, indicating that economic factors also play a role in who attends French immersion (Worswick 2003).

About two-thirds of First Nations peoples live off reserve and their children attend provincially run schools. The Constitution Act of 1867 (and later the consolidation of many Aboriginal-related laws into the Indian Act of 1876) stated that the Crown is responsible for the education for First Nations people who live on reserves. Inuits do not live on reserves but typically in municipal areas which would have territorially funded education, while Métis children living on Métis settlements would attend provincially run on-settlement schools. Specifically, it is the federal government’s responsibility to provide and fund primary and secondary education on First Nations reserves. About one in five First Nations children are educated on reserve, with the remaining attending schools under provincial jurisdiction (Richards 2009).

Elementary and secondary on-reserve education is managed by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC), which runs programs that oversee the instruction of on-reserve schools and reimburses the tuition costs for students who attend off-reserve schools (which are under provincial jurisdiction). It should be noted that AANDC has undergone a name change in 2011 and previously was known as the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development since the mid-1950s. Federal policy indicates that on-reserve educational services are to be comparable to those provided by the province in off-reserve public schools.

In 1972, the National Indian Brotherhood (now known as the Assembly of First Nations) presented the federal government with a written policy on First Nations education entitled Indian Control of Indian Education. As indicated by its title, this document outlined the importance of local control, parental involvement, and culturally relevant curriculum. The DIAND was quick to respond to the position paper, handing over administrative control of on-reserve schools to the bands in the same year. There are over 500 band-operated schools on First Nations reserves in Canada, with only a few being managed by DIAND (Simeone 2011). Approximately $1.8 billion will be spent in 2012–2013 to fund the on-reserve education of around 120 000 First Nations primary and secondary school students. Most, but not all, on-reserve schools are at the kindergarten and primary level, however. Around 40 percent of normally on-reserve students attend school off-reserve in provincially run and private schools because of the absence of secondary schools on many reserves. Children of secondary-school age must often commute long distances or move off reserve in order to attend secondary school.

An important exception to federal control over First Nations education occurred in 1975, when the Cree community of James Bay, located in Northern Quebec, established its own school board. Prior to this, children were being sent off reserve to be educated in residential schools. The establishment of the Cree School Board signalled protection of Cree culture and the education of their children in their own language and traditions.16 The school board function is recognized within Quebec’s Education Act and is funded by both the federal and Quebec governments (Mendelson 2008).

In 2008, the Canadian government committed $70 million over two years to improving and reforming First Nations K–12 education.17 There is considerable evidence to indicate that on-reserve schools are not comparable to provincial schools in many aspects, given that the educational outcomes of First Nations students lag so far behind those of other Canadians. First Nations community leaders, policy-makers, and politicians have repeatedly called for overhauls to the First Nations education system with the aim of improving outcomes for First Nations students. The specific reforms that have been suggested vary by province, but include partnerships between provincially run schools and First Nations groups, and agreements that give First Nations groups more control over the education of their children and allow them to deliver an education program that is more culturally relevant.

More recent similar agreements have been reached by other First Nations groups, provincial education authorities, and the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. In 1997, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Chiefs approached the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development with the idea of making a Mi’kmaq Education Authority to service the 13 different Mi’kmaq communities in the province with culturally relevant and self-governed education. In 1999, after much debate, the Mi’kmaq Education Act was incorporated into federal law and the jurisdiction of the education in these areas was transferred to the Mi’kmaq Nation (Mendelson 2009).

More recently, the B.C. First Nations have been working together with provincial and federal authorities to make amendments to First Nations education laws in their province. In 2007, the First Nations Jurisdiction over Education in British Columbia Act was passed which created a new First Nations Education Authority in British Columbia. The resulting education authority will be run by First Nations and responsible for the K–12 program in participating First Nations, including curriculum and teacher training (Mendelson 2009).

Not all Canadian elementary and secondary schools are physically located in Canada. There are schools in Antilles, China, Egypt, Ghana, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Singapore, St. Lucia, Switzerland, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, and United Arab Emirates that use the curriculum of one of the provinces in Canada. Provincial ministries inspect the schools, which offer credits toward Canadian secondary diplomas. These schools are not publicly funded. Such schools are English speaking and often cater to globally mobile professional families (Hayden and Thompson 2008).

11.2.2 Post-Secondary Education

In Canada, post-secondary education is available at a range of government-supported and private institutions across the country. Such public institutions receive a substantial amount (50 percent or more) of their operating capital from the government and do not operate for a profit. Such institutions provide various credentials after completion of a program of study, such as degrees, diplomas, certificates, and attestations (Council of Ministers of Education, Canada 2008). While the ability to grant degrees has traditionally been solely the domain of universities, recent changes in some jurisdictions now allow colleges and private universities to award some types of degrees. According to the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, a “recognized postsecondary institution is a private or public institution that has been given full authority to grant degrees, diplomas, and other credentials by a public or private act of the provincial or territorial legislature or through a government-mandated quality assurance mechanism.”18

There are 163 universities (public and private) in Canada, as well as 183 public colleges and institutes (Council of Ministers of Education, Canada 2011). Other institutions at the university (almost 70) and college (about 50) level have selected programs that meet the requirements of quality assurance at the level of the jurisdiction.

Post-secondary education in Canada is funded through a combination of municipal, provincial, federal, and private funds, which vary considerably by province and territory. Student tuition fees make up around 20 percent of the funding of post-secondary education.

Canadian public universities grant undergraduate degrees that range from three to four years, depending on the program of study, as well as some types of specialized diplomas. The word “university” is a legally protected term that can be applied only to institutions that meet the requirements outlined in the province or territorial University Act and which have been given such recognition by the regulatory body. Universities exist for the primary purposes of granting degrees and conducting research. The mission statements of universities emphasize non-economic objectives (Orton 2009) and the importance of the pursuit of knowledge.

As a major expectation of universities is the active research program of its academic community, an important element of academic life on university campuses is the principle of academic freedom. Academic freedom refers to the ability of researchers to teach, conduct research, publish, and communicate their academic findings and ideas without being at risk of losing their jobs or being otherwise penalized if their results are deemed controversial. In universities, tenure is a mechanism that ensures academic freedom for faculty members.  Tenure refers to the process by which junior professors are found to meet the rigorous requirements of a given institution in the fields of teaching, research, and university service, and are granted permanent status wherein they cannot be dismissed without just cause. It has been argued that without this type of job security, academics may not pursue difficult or controversial topics and only research “safe” topics so as to not risk losing their jobs.

In addition to undergraduate degrees, many universities offer post-graduate study at the master’s and doctoral level. Master’s programs usually last one or two years, while doctoral programs are three years or longer. Universities can be divided into four general types: primarily undergraduate, comprehensive, medical doctoral, and special purpose (Orton 2009). Primarily undergraduate universities are those that focus on undergraduate degrees (mostly bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees) and have few or no graduate program offerings. Comprehensive universities are those that are characterized by a wide range of programs at both the undergraduate and post-graduate levels, and also have a high degree of research activity. Medical doctoral universities are those that have a wide offering of PhD programs in addition to medical schools. And  are those that specialize in a particular field of study, awarding most degrees in a specific field.

Canadian universities are considered autonomous, non-profit corporations (Jones, Shanahan, and Goyan 2001), which were created in jurisdiction-specific acts or charters. Public universities have much freedom in their governance as they are permitted to set their own admission requirements and program offerings. Interventions by the government are limited to concerns around fee increases and student funding (Council of Ministers of Education, Canada 2011). In terms of governance, public universities usually have two tiers of structure: a board of governors and a senate. The characteristic of having these two legislative bodies for the purpose of university governance is known as bicameralism (Jones, Shanahan, and Goyan 2001). The vast majority of Canadian universities have adopted bicameralism since the 1960s, although the composition of the board of governors and senate can vary considerably between institutions.

Governing boards at a university tend to comprise persons of various backgrounds, including alumni (Jones 2002), although typically about two-thirds of the board are from outside the university. Faculty, students, and senior university administration (such as deans and the president) also typically sit on the board. The tasks of the board of governors are typically focused on issues related to policy and finances. In contrast, the major tasks associated with the university senate tend to be focused on academic matters, such as programs of study, admission requirements, appeals, and program planning. University senates are typically comprised of faculty, students, and senior university administrators. The rationale behind having a bicameralist system is historically rooted in the attempts to balance both academic and public interests within the formal organizational governance structure of the university (Jones 2002).

While the senate may be responsible for academic matters, and governing boards for administrative matters, a third source of decision making is found in the administrative structure of the university itself (Jones 2002). A university has a president who is appointed by the governing board. The job of the president is to attend to the day-to-day affairs of the institution and delegate authority within a structure of central administrative structure. In addition to the president, there are also at least two vice-presidents, deans of faculties, and heads of individual university departments. While there are many specific differences in the roles of each administrative position according to particular universities, one common role that the university president plays is serving as the official linkage between the university and the provincial government (Jones 2002). Also, the selection of higher-level administrative roles including the president and deans employs a participatory process, which includes a search committee comprised of various members of the university community, often including students (Jones 2002).

Faculty associations have also played an important role in university administration in the last few decades, with unonized and non-unionized faculty associations in place at most Canadian universities (Jones 2002). Such associations, particularly those that are unionized, have significant influence in the area of faculty salaries, workload, tenure, and promotion and academic freedom. Often, faculty associations include members other than full-time professors, including part-time faculty and librarians.

Student participation in the governance of universities increased in the 1960s and 1970s (Jones 2002), with student associations existing on all campuses. Usually university students are mandatory fee-paying members of at least one student association. The services that are offered by student associations vary according to campus, but can range from running businesses like campus pubs and restaurants, to printing a student paper, organizing student social activities and campus events, and monitoring institutional policies and practices (Jones 2002).

There are literally thousands of colleges (sometimes called institutes) in Canada, ranging from those that grant degrees to those which provide specialized training in specific job-related skills, such as agriculture, arts, or paramedical training. Many private colleges that offer specific job skill training are called career colleges. Of all colleges in Canada, about 150 are recognized public institutions, with this figure including CEGEPS in Quebec (Council of Ministers of Education, Canada 2011). Colleges and institutes are legislated under provincial College Acts (or their equivalent, depending on the jurisdiction) and have a primary purpose of education (rather than research and education, as in universities). Mission statements of colleges usually emphasize economic objectives (Orton 2009).

While Indigenous students attend various post-secondary institutions across Canada, there are over 20 First Nations community colleges located throughout Canada as well as one university. Some of the First Nations colleges are in association with provincial universities and colleges.

Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (SIFC) was the first Aboriginal-controlled post-secondary education institution in Canada that granted degrees. It was established in 1976 and is associated with the University of Regina. The mission of the university is

to enhance the quality of life, and to preserve, protect and interpret the history, language, culture and artistic heritage of First Nations. The First Nations University of Canada will acquire and expand its base of knowledge and understanding in the best interests of First Nations and for the benefit of society by providing opportunities of quality bi-lingual and bi-cultural education under the mandate and control of the First Nations of Saskatchewan. The First Nations University of Canada is a First Nations’ controlled university which provides educational opportunities to both First Nations and non-First Nations university students selected from a provincial, national and international base.20 (First Nations University of Canada website http://www.fnuniv. ca/index.php/mission. Used with permission.)

This is the only Aboriginal-controlled university in Canada. There are three regional campuses in Saskatchewan and they are located in Regina, Saskatoon, and Prince Albert. Starting out with only nine students in 1976, the First Nations University of Canada now has a steady enrolment of about 1200 students per year, mostly at the undergraduate level, although some master’s programs have recently started to be offered. Students are attracted from all the provinces and territories.

Vocational training generally refers to a multi-year program of study that provides instruction in a skill or trade that leads a student to a job in that particular skill or trade. Such training can be acquired in secondary schools as well as at the post-secondary level. Public colleges and institutes as well as private colleges offer many programs that lead to vocational credentials. In addition to post-secondary institutions, workplace-based apprenticeship programs also exist. There are two ways that a person can enter an apprenticeship program: (1) by completing a pre-apprenticeship program through a college or vocational school, and then securing work with an employer to whom the apprentice is contracted to work for a fixed period of time, or (2) by securing work and then being sponsored by an employer into an apprenticeship program (Schuetze 2003).

The training of an apprentice combines work supervised by a qualified journey-person combined with in-class learning. Traditional trades training has been comprised of around 80 percent on-the-job training with 20 percent classroom teaching (often referred to as block release wherein apprentices are in school full-time for a period of four to six weeks). Apprenticeship training spans between 6000 and 8000 hours, which can take about three to five years to complete (seasonal work will take longer as the training can take place for only a limited time each year). After successful training, the apprentice takes an exam to become a certified journeyperson (Scheutze 2003).

Apprenticeships are a relatively small part of the workforce in Canada, comprising only about one percent of the total labour force. The average age of a person in apprentice training is significantly higher than those in other post-secondary pathways—28 years of age (Scheutze 2003). There are around 150 registered trades in Canada, the majority of which serve the manufacturing, resource, and construction sectors of the economy. Trades and their requirements vary by province, although an interprovincial list of “Red Seal” trades has been established to allow for the competencies of a person’s trade to be tested so that they can practise their trade across Canada and are not limited to the jurisdiction in which their training occurred. There are currently 52 trades that are Red Seal, including baker, ironworker, machinist, hairstylist, cook, plumber, powerline technician, roofer, tilesetter, welder, and pipefitter.

The term adult education (or adult learning) refers to participation in education by the adult population aged between 25 and 64. The definition refers to people who are not in the initial cycle of their education (Canadian Education Statistics Council 2010; Kerr 2011). The initial cycle of education refers to education pursued in primary and secondary institutions and often includes post-secondary education when completed in young adulthood. Adult learners comprise the segment of the population who often have come back to education after a period (sometimes a lengthy period) in the workforce or out of the labour force completely. The changing nature of work and the rapid development of technology mean that education is often not confined to the initial cycle of life any longer. There is an increased requirement for individuals to learn throughout the lifespan for various reasons, including keeping on top of the most recent changes in technology in the knowledge economy (Canadian Education Statistics Council 2010).

Adult education can generally be broken into two broad types: formal and non-formal (Rubenson, Kjell, Desjardins, and Yoon 2007). Formal adult education occurs in a structured manner and leads to formal credentials, like degrees, certificates, or diplomas. In contrast, non-formal adult education consists of organized learning activities that do not result in formal credentials, such as workshops and seminars (Canadian Education Statistics Council 2010). In 2008, just over 40 percent of adults aged 25 to 64 had participated in some form of formal or non-formal education (Canadian Education Statistics Council 2010).

Adult learning is often referred to as continuing education.  Indeed, many post-secondary institutions have established their own faculties of continuing education, offering credited programs within their colleges and universities. Seen as an increasingly necessary part of life, continued learning exists for employees in all types of sectors, from government employees at all levels, to workers in health-related professions, to members of trade unions. Adult education takes place in a variety of settings including churches, offices, libraries, and lecture halls.

11.3 The Role of Curriculum in Education

Curriculum is the content of schooling. It is that which is learned in the schooling environment. This is not limited simply to familiar subjects like mathematics, science, or reading. The curriculum is significantly more far-reaching. It also prepares students to become future workers and citizens. And it is because of this socializing nature of the curriculum that it is a topic of enormous sociological interest.

The curriculum is a social construction with many embedded and taken-for-granted assumptions about what knowledge should be transmitted to young people. Who decides what goes into the curriculum? What assumptions about knowledge are engrained in Canadian curricular practices?

Because education is under provincial and territorial jurisdiction in Canada, each province and territory has its own ministry of education that has an official curriculum guide for teachers to follow. These are official documents and the following of the curricular guides is mandatory for teachers. Curriculum guides tell teachers what should be taught and when (i.e., in what order and how much time to allocate to specific topics). The detail of the curricular documents, however, varies greatly from province to province. The method by which the teacher chooses to teach the topic is entirely up to them. Teachers learn about ways of teaching specific topics as part of their teacher training (which also follows curricular guidelines, but at a post-secondary level).

Developments in curriculum cannot be completely understood if the social, cultural, and historical contexts in which they occurred are not taken into account. The content of what is taught at school has been an ideological battleground, with various religious, economic, cultural, and political advocacy groups playing major roles at different points in history. A thorough overview is well beyond the scope of this module, but a brief summary (drawn primarily from the much more thorough overview given by Tomkins 2008) will help contextualize major curricular shifts that have happened across this vast country. 

Until the 1840s, education was largely in the hands of the family and the church. Prior to this time, Canada was a pre-industrial society which was mostly based upon agriculture. In New France and English Canada, a systematic curriculum for the education of young people was not established until the 1840s. The 1600s, however, marked the creation of the Jesuit Ratio Studiorum in New France, which was a plan of studies for males who wanted to enter the priesthood. In 1635, the Jesuit College was founded in Quebec, which provided training of priests, as well as males of the upper classes pursuing esteemed vocations. Formal schooling at this point in time was largely limited to the social elite. Similarly, the education of girls in Quebec coincided with the arrival of the Ursulines (a Catholic order of nuns) in 1639. Their school, opened in 1657, focused on teaching the doctrine of the Catholic church, but also the “three Rs” (reading, writing, and arithmetic). Domestic skills were also included in the curriculum. Education in Upper Canada and the remainder of what is now known as Canada was not established until later in the nineteenth century due to lack of settlement.

Canada’s population dramatically increased between 1892 and 1920 due to mass immigration. During this time, about four million new inhabitants arrived in Canada. The Yukon (1898), Alberta, and Saskatchewan (both in 1905) also joined Confederation between these years, adding to Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, and Manitoba, which had joined earlier. Canada at this time was engaged in country-building and the “Canadianization” of new immigrants, which continued to be an overarching curricular objective. Growth of Canadian schools at this time is also greatly attributable to laws instituted around compulsory attendance. All provinces except Quebec had mandatory attendance laws by 1920. Increased enrolments and population growth meant the massive expansion of the Canadian education system.

In the early 1900s, New Education was introduced in English Canada, which incorporated less traditional topics of study into the classroom. Traditionally, the subjects covered in formal schooling focused mainly on English (literature and grammar), mathematics, learning Latin, and the rote learning of historical dates and geography. New Education introduced the subjects of home economics (“domestic science”), agricultural studies, and physical education to the curriculum, but not with uniform success. Kindergarten was also introduced as a New Education reform. At this point in history, the major purpose of public education in English Canada was to assimilate the large numbers of new immigrants at the time to dominant Anglo-Saxon values and to keep the Canadian curriculum free of American influence. 

In the 1920s, New Education and similar reform efforts continued to gain popularity as British educators (influenced by progressive movements in the United States) continued to argue that education should be more encompassing than just the three Rs. Learning purely through memorization was also regarded as a less acceptable pedagogical practice than it had been in the past, with more attention being shifted to the possibilities of students engaging in experiential learning. The late 1930s and early 1940s saw the beginnings of the progressive education movement, which is a pedagogical approach that prioritizes experiential learning (i.e., learning through doing and experiencing) over the amassing and memorization of facts. Reforms of this era were characterized as being more child-centred, activity-based, integrating various subjects where possible (Lemisko and Clausen 2006). For example, social studies emerged as a subject, which was the result of combining geography, civic education, and history. The content of this course, offered across grade levels, was based upon developing democratic and cooperative behaviour through experiential learning. Alberta led all provinces in adopting major revisions to the curriculum in the late 1930s that promoted progressive education, with other provinces following in the 1940s.

Although a mandate of Ryerson and many other education advocates of his time (and later) across Canada was to avoid American influences in curriculum, many American ideas found their way into Canadian curriculum in the post-war years, including the idea of scientific testing. The cultural content of the English Canadian curriculum, however, remained British. In fact, throughout curriculum development in Canada, there have often been marked efforts to keep the curriculum “Canadian” and culturally distinct from that used in the United States (Sumara, Davis, and Laidlaw 2001). Topics of study were British, although education influences were recommendations that had been adapted from prominent British educators through the influence of American education advocates.2

The Cold War era, or the years following the Second World War, was associated with competition and political tension between the Soviet Union and its communist allies and the Western world—primarily the United States. Competition between the opposing sides manifested itself in two important ways. The first was the “Space Race”—which referred to a rivalry between sides as to which nation could lead in technological space exploration. The second area of major competition was the more ominous Nuclear Arms Race, in which the U.S. and the Soviet Union engaged in the stockpiling of nuclear arsenals. In these years the English Canadian curriculum followed the American lead and added more curricular emphasis on science and mathematics to reflect public opinion that remaining competitive with the Russians (who were thought to excel in these areas) was paramount.

The mid-1960s is associated with another major shift in curriculum across Canada. In English Canada, much pressure was put on the educational system to change in order to respond to the newer values and worldviews emerging at the time. In addition to less centralized control of schools and an increase in the regional specificities of courses of study, schools had to respond to demands from students and members of the public who had various concerns. Students wanted more “practical” knowledge that also reflected a more diverse (non-British) population. Advocacy groups cropped up in the form of federal agencies, consumer organizations, organized labour, and human rights organizations. These groups viewed classrooms as an ideal place to cultivate their desired social changes. Many rights movements also occurred in the 1960s—Aboriginal Civil Rights activism (as well as the Civil Rights movement in the United States) and the second wave of feminism across Canada, the UK, and the United States drew attention to racial and gender inequalities. During this period, advocacy groups representing Indigenous and various minority groups moved to press for multicultural, non-sexist, and non-racist treatments of subject matter.

At the same time that pressures were being made to make the English Canadian curriculum more progressive, the Quiet Revolution was occurring in Quebec. Up to this point, the schools in Quebec were run by the Catholic Church. In the early 1960s, Quebec completely overhauled its education system, replacing Catholic Church leadership with government administration. The reasons for this change were manifold, but at the core was the desire of the leaders in French Canada to achieve a workforce that had the essential qualifications to modernize Quebec both economically and culturally. In the 1970s, Quebec introduced controversial legislation that required all new immigrant children (which included children from other Canadian provinces) to be educated in French rather than English. These school reforms were all considered essential by leaders who sought to overturn what they believed to be a francophone disadvantage resulting from of hundreds of years of marginalization under Church and British domination.

Since the 1970s, additional shifts have occurred in curriculum across Canada. The 1980s was marked by an increase in centralization (after decentralization in the 1960s) to create more accountability. Standardized testing was re-introduced (after having previously been abandoned) and more focus was again placed on skill performance in reading, writing, and mathematics. Teachers resisted these top-down demands and insisted on being included in decisions around curriculum reform. The inclusion of teachers in curriculum reform became accepted practice in the 1980s.

The 1990s were again characterized by large reforms in several provinces that were in response to various factors including the perceived poor performance of Canadian students in international rankings as well as high dropout rates. Inclusiveness was also emphasized in the reforms, with efforts to engage and represent a wider diversity of perspectives. A basic core academic curriculum, to be completed by all, was supplemented with alternative subjects within which a student could pursue his or her own interests. This new curriculum was adopted with the mandate of responding to the diversity of the population and better preparing young people for the labour force. New high school curriculum emphasized career-related skills (e.g., skills in technology and communication) in addition to academic study, with the intention of preparing students to be productive future citizens with a variety of skill sets. An anticipated outcome of accommodating a more diverse student population was the retention of students who would otherwise be at high risk for dropping out.

While curriculum has historically been provincially specific to fit the needs of a diverse population, the Council of Ministers of Education (CMEC) was established in 1967 in order for provinces to collaborate on common curricular goals. The CMEC has, for example, coordinated a number of student assessments that are administered across the country. The first development of CMEC was the Pan-Canadian Science Project (PCSP), which was aimed at producing a science curriculum with the same learning outcomes across all provinces and territories for kindergarten through to Grade 12. Science was chosen as the first area of cooperation due to the perceived importance of scientific literacy in the wider scope of the economy, and in order to keep up with the American science curriculum reforms that had been underway since the early 1990s (Percy 1998). The materials on this project are available for individual provincial and territorial jurisdictions to incorporate into their science curricula (Dodd 2002). Many provinces have implemented the PCSP.

In 1995, a Pan-Canadian Protocol for Collaboration in School Curriculum was adopted in order to improve the overall education quality across provinces and territories and also to foster cooperation between the jurisdictions. In 1993, education ministers in the western provinces and the Yukon and Northwest Territories signed the Western Canadian Protocol for Collaboration in Basic Education (K–12), with Nunavut joining in 2000. A similar alliance was created among the Atlantic provinces in 1995 with the establishment of the Atlantic Provinces Education Foundation. The mandate of the Western Canadian Protocol and the Atlantic Provinces Education Foundation is to create common curriculum outcomes and methods of assessment between the jurisdictions (Dodd 2002).

11.3.1 Influences on Curriculum

While there is general consensus that it is of fundamental importance to educate children and young people, the specific content of that education is subject to debate. Parents are a major source of influence on the curriculum, as are political/cultural organizations and corporations.

While subjects like reading are regarded as essential skills, what children are permitted to read in class continues to be a topic that can create much debate. The Freedom of Expression Committee (www.freedomtoread.ca) monitors censorship issues in Canada, including books that parents have made cases for removing from school curricula and libraries. Jenkinson (1986) indicates that most advocates of banning particular books in schools are individual parents. The annual lists compiled by the Freedom of Expression Committee reveal that in 2009 at least 74 “challenges” were received by the Canadian Library Association about library holdings that at least one person wished to have removed. In the previous year, this number was 139. For example, in 2008, a parental complaint in Toronto argued for the removal of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale from a Grade 12 English class on the grounds that it used profanity and described violent scenes involving sexual degradation. The school board retained the novel in the curriculum. In 2002, Black parents and teachers in Yarmouth, Digby, and Shelburne, Nova Scotia, challenged Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Barbara Smucker’s Underground to Canada on the grounds that they contained language that was derogatory to Black people. Parents expressed concern that it could lead to racial stereotyping and to their own children being mocked. Ultimately, these books were not removed from the school library.

Often, the challenges that parents have are rooted in religious beliefs that they feel are being undermined by curricular content. For example, in 2000, the Durham, Ontario, school board received many complaints that the popular Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling were being read in schools. An official from the school board said that the complaints were coming from fundamentalist Christian parents who were concerned that the wizardry and witchcraft that the main character practised was inappropriate for adolescents. In other jurisdictions across Canada, some teachers have been asked not to use these books in the classroom, and similar issues have arisen in 19 U.S. states. This is just one of many examples of parents and members of the public “challenging” books in schools.3

With regard to science, Darwin’s theory of evolution and the Big Bang theory can be viewed as problematic by certain religious groups who believe that the universe and humankind was created by a supreme being. Many fundamentalist groups have opposed the teaching of these topics in the classroom, as they run counter to their own beliefs. They have also suggested that perspectives such as creationism and intelligent design, which support their views, also be taught alongside Darwinism and the Big Bang theory as legitimate alternatives. Many religious groups also oppose the exposure of their children to many topics including sexual health education and climate change. The curriculum varies widely by province, as does teachers’ knowledge of the topic (as well as their personal beliefs).

It is not exclusively individual parents who challenge curricular content; sometimes organizations representing political, religious, or cultural viewpoints also oppose curricular materials. In 2006, for example, the Canadian Jewish Congress challenged Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak, by Deborah Ellis.4 They argued that this book should not be accessible to elementary school children because it presented a flawed and one-sided view of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. While the book was not removed from schools, five school boards in Canada set restrictions on its access (e.g., limiting its access to higher grade levels and requiring that the title be removed from shelves and available only by request).

In 2007, the Council of Turkish Canadians challenged Extraordinary Evil: A Brief History of Genocide by Barbara Coloroso on the grounds that the deaths of millions of Armenians during the Ottoman Empire was described as genocide. (The Turkish government disagrees that this was genocide.5) This book was to be used in Toronto in a Grade 11 history class on genocide. A committee of the Toronto District School Board deemed the material to be an inappropriate depiction of factual history and it was removed from the reading list. This decision was met with much protest by writers, Canadian publishers, and the Book and Periodical Council, which led to it being put back on the reading list, but as a social psychological resource on genocide rather than a historical text. This reversal of the decision led the Turkish Embassy to complain to Premier Dalton McGuinty and the Ontario Ministry of Education. The book remains on the reading list at the time of writing.

Many corporations have free resources available for teachers that help with teaching specific topics (Robertson 2005). The corporations provide materials freely to teachers who can easily request them online. A few examples include the Canadian Nuclear Association, which provides “secondary school teachers with access to lesson plans about concepts, issues and people related to the nuclear industry.”6 The resources that are provided are vast and include full lesson plans, downloadable PowerPoint slides, and student assessment materials, all of which are customized to the curriculum requirements of particular jurisdictions. Kellogg’s also has nutrition-related educational resources on a special website called missionnutrition.ca, which includes lesson plans and materials for children from kindergarten to Grade 8. Dove Canada offers a “Real Beauty School Program” for teachers that is aimed at improving children’s self-esteem. Kraft Canada and Sobeys are major sponsors of Prince Edward Island’s Healthy Eating Alliance, which provides several nutrition resources for teachers to use in the classroom.7 Procter & Gamble has partnered with government health agencies at the provincial and federal level to create a “user-friendly, state of the art, puberty education program” which they call the Always Changing and Vibrant Faces program. Procter & Gamble also offers teaching materials for nutrition education aimed at Grade 4 students and “nose-care” instructional materials geared toward Grade 1 students.

Canada is a country with a diverse population. The official policy of multiculturalism was introduced in 1971 by the Trudeau government and the Multicultural Act, passed in 1988, further guaranteed cultural diversity to Canadians, allowing them to preserve and share their unique cultural heritages. While the founding immigrant groups of Canada were British and French, immigration to Canada after the World Wars resulted in a population that was much more diverse than simply English, French, and Indigenous. The purpose of the multiculturalism policy was to legitimize the place of the various ethno-cultural groups in Canada. One of the objectives of this policy was to celebrate this diversity of ethno-cultural groups and their contributions to Canadian society. Another was to promote healthy relationships between and among these groups (Ghosh 2004).

Ghosh (2004) identifies five stages of the development of multicultural education in a Canadian context. The first is the assimilation stage. Until the adoption of the official policy of multiculturalism, assimilation into an Anglo-dominated culture was expected in English Canada. Differences from the dominant culture were seen as deficiencies that needed to be remedied. The next stage is referred to as the adaptation stage, which characterized the practices in education observed shortly after multiculturalism policy was introduced in Canada in the 1970s. Ghosh notes that in this stage, cultural differences were regarded as “exotic.” Attention to multicultural topics and cultural diversity was approached with a “museum view”: practices specific to particular ethnicities were regarded as romantic cultural artifacts. Sometimes known as the “saris, samosas and steel drums” approach, these first attempts at introducing multiculturalism into education largely failed at fostering integration and tolerance because non-dominant cultures were regarded as strange and exotic and associated only with specific foods, dances, and music.

The third stage of multicultural education in Canada is known as the accommodation stage. In this stage, attention shifted to promoting equality of opportunity. This was represented in education by the introduction of topics like ethnic studies, heritage language programs, and the inclusion of gender and ethnic representation in curricula. According to Ghosh (2004), this was realized through a variety of techniques, including removing ethnic and racial stereotypes from curriculum material, hiring minority teachers, and offering heritage-language courses in schools. Ghosh argues, however, that despite these efforts, the overall Eurocentric content of the curriculum and culture of the education system continued to marginalize ethnic minority students and discriminate against them in both overt and covert ways.

The fourth stage of multicultural education is called incorporation. In this stage, attention has shifted to promoting intergroup relations. Within education, this has meant the hiring of more teachers from ethno-cultural groups and the implementation of prejudice-reduction strategies. In this stage, attempts are made at creating alliances between different groups.

The fifth stage is referred to as the integration stage, which Ghosh notes is a “radical departure” from the previous stages. In this stage, world views are altogether different. Instead of a Eurocentric White cultural framework as the dominant world view, the orientation at this stage is much more global. Teachers using a critical race pedagogy focused on anti-racist education are characteristic of multicultural education in Canada at this stage. This approach to pedagogy in Canada, however, has been used in only a handful of cities and provinces, and usually on an experimental basis (Ghosh 2004).

St. Denis (2007) has argued that Indigenous students have been subjected to processes of racialization that have “historically, legally and politically” divided Indigenous communities. Many critics such as Aikenhead (2006) have argued that school curriculum in Canada has prioritized a Western European scientific way of knowing. This way of knowing is so engrained and taken-for-granted in Western culture that it can be difficult to promote alternative viewpoints. This Western way of knowing tends to emphasize positivism and an ontology of objective reality, particularly when it comes to science. However, there are other ways of knowing that do not value these particular orientations. As argued by Aikenhead, the Indigenous way of knowing includes an “alternative notion of knowledge as action and wisdom, which combines the ontology of spirituality with holistic, relational, empirical practices in order to celebrate an ideology of harmony with nature for survival” (p. 387).

Teaching styles in the Canadian classroom are typically task-focused and rely on linear thinking and passive learning. Teaching is based on conveying small units of information rather than on aiming for an understanding of the whole (Cherubini, Hodson, Manley-Casimir, and Muir 2010; Ghosh 2002). These practices are at odds with the Indigenous way of knowing. Critics argue that the Canadian school system has not nurtured Indigenous students’ identities by recognizing their ways of knowing, which alienates students and makes them less inclined to want to participate in learning (Aikenhead 2006; Canadian Council on Learning 2007a; Carr 2008; Cherubini, Hodson, Manley-Casimir, and Muir 2010). Aikenhead (2006) calls this forcing of Eurocentric views on Indigenous students, and the resulting delegitimization of their ways of knowing, cognitive imperialism. Many teachers, however, are not trained to deal with Indigenous ways of knowing, as it is largely absent from teacher training practices across Canada—with some notable exceptions, such as Brock University’s specialized degree in Aboriginal Education (Redwing and Hill 2007).

Many scholars, including Schick and St. Denis (2005), have argued that the current approaches to multicultural education have originated from a problematic starting point that views Canadian culture as “raceless, benevolent, and innocent” (p. 296). The authors argue that the common ways of talking about multiculturalism fail to acknowledge that privilege—particularly White privilege—vastly improves the likelihood of individuals overcoming disadvantage. In Canadian popular discourse, racism is thought of as something that occurred in the past—or that happens in the United States—and discussions of racism are considered taboo or ill-mannered. Schick and St. Denis argue that it is imperative for teachers to recognize that White-skin privilege serves to advantage White students and teachers by allowing them to move with ease in a Eurocentric Western environment. For example, the racism that Indigenous peoples faced limited their access to and success in education, but these same mechanisms served to assist White students. While such students may regard their success as solely the result of hard work, critical race theorists argue that it is necessary to recognize that the system is not as meritocratic as we might believe.

This myth of meritocracy—or the present-day belief that White success is due to hard work alone—is a subtle way that White domination is secured in today’s society. Critics argue that White student success has been—and continues to be—at the cost of racism against Indigenous and ethno-cultural minorities. The myth of meritocracy secures that belief by perpetuating the notion that people earn their place in society solely based upon how hard they work, regardless of their ascribed characteristics. There is, however, much evidence to the contrary suggesting that systematic racism exists in our society and that it makes it considerably more difficult for non-Whites to achieve to the same level as Whites.

Critical race theorists recognize that teachers may find it offensive to suggest that they may act in (unintentionally) racist ways that are driven by White privilege. They argue that the curriculum and teaching practices are inherently biased insofar as they hold “Whiteness” as the invisible norm against which ethnic and cultural minorities are compared. For example, the achievements of Indigenous and minority students are compared to the achievements of White students—who have had access to and enjoyed the privileges associated with being members of the dominant culture—which Schick and St. Denis argue is an unfair benchmark from which to begin evaluations. According to Schick and St. Denis (2005), anti-racist pedagogy is a teaching approach that better promotes an effective multicultural curriculum because it requires that teachers and students recognize how White privilege has increased their life chances. Students and teachers are made aware of how one’s life chances are not solely determined by meritocracy and that there is evidence that subtle forms of racism have secured the benefits of White privilege (e.g., living in a “good neighbourhood” and attending a well-resourced school), although such conversations will naturally make them feel uncomfortable (and often defensive).  

There have been some promising starts in fostering a truly multicultural curriculum that recognizes alternative ways of knowingAlternative ways of knowing refers to worldviews that are different than the dominant Western scientific manner in which knowledge in acquired in Canada (and elsewhere). Indigenous communities have argued that the contemporary classroom in Canada favours a Eurocentric view of the world that is strongly tied to the scientific method. Aboriginal ways of knowing are based often on oral history, tradition, and practical application. In British Columbia, the Ministry of Education has started to include Indigenous knowledge in the kindergarten to Grade 12 science curricula. A guide for helping teachers bring Indigenous knowledge into the classroom has also been developed in consultation with Indigenous educators. In Saskatchewan, Indigenous elders and other cultural advisers are brought into schools for the purpose of linking students to this knowledge. In consultation with Elders, researchers have developed teaching materials for science education for Grades 6 through 12 (Canadian Council on Learning 2007a).

Cherubini, Hodson, Manley-Casimir, and Muir (2010) have noted that part of the problem of addressing White privilege in the classroom has been the unpreparedness of teachers who have not had exposure and education in Indigenous ways of knowing. They suggest that all pre-service teachers be familiar with Indigenous education and have opportunities to participate in courses and activities that give them adequate exposure to these issues. They note that innovative programming in teacher education is occurring in Canada at some teacher training programs. One such program at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, partners with Indigenous groups in an attempt to expand the number of Indigenous educators who work within the community. Recently Brock entered an agreement with the Northern Nishnawbe Education Council to train and educate 100 new Nishnawbe teachers who will be qualified to teach both on- and off-reserve.

Another attempt to address problems perceived to be the outcome of White privilege is illustrated in the recent opening of Toronto’s first Africentric school. The school, which is part of Toronto’s public school system, has a Black-focused curriculum, but is not limited to Black students. It opened in 2009, amid considerable controversy, with critics arguing that such a school advocated racial segregation. Advocates of the school pointed to the fact that Black students in Toronto had a dropout rate of around 40 percent—substantially higher than for Whites and other racial minority students. They argued that the dropout rate was in part attributable to the inability of Black students to relate to the subject matter being taught in schools—and that mainstream curriculum viewed the world through European eyes. In the Africentric school, instead of learning about history from a European point of view, for example, the role that African history played in the creation of European history is covered. In literature, Black writers are studied, and in mathematics, pedagogical practices are used to make the subject matter more relevant to Black students, such as showing how African textile patterns exhibit key principles of geometry.18 The first three years of Toronto’s Africentric school (which can accommodate students up to Grade 7) have been considered so successful in improving Black student achievement and retention that plans are underway to begin Africentric education at the secondary level starting in September of 2012.

11.3.2 The Hidden Curriculum

Socialization refers to the ongoing process of learning the expected behaviours, values, norms, and social skills of individuals who occupy particular roles in society. Agents of socialization are the social structures in which socialization occurs. Major agents of socialization include the family and school, but also the media, peer groups, and other major social institutions such as religion and the legal system. Furthermore, socialization can be divided into two types: primary socialization and secondary socialization.  Primary socialization occurs within the family and is where children first learn their own individual identity, acquire language, and develop cognitive skills. Within the family, children are socialized into particular ways of thinking about morals, cultural values, and social roles. Of course, the socialization that results from primary socialization rests heavily upon the social class, ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds and attitudes of the family.

Secondary socialization refers to the social learning that children undergo when they enter other social institutions, like school. Characteristics of the school, teachers, and the peer group all influence the socialization of children within school settings. The family still remains an important part of children’s socialization, even when they enter into school. Children, however, will now have other significant people in their lives from whom they will learn the skills of social interaction.

A major objective of socialization in the school setting is to make a child socially competent. A child must develop skills that allow him or her to function socially, emotionally, and intellectually within the school environment and beyond. Within the school setting, social competence is achieved when students embrace and achieve socially sanctioned goals. These goals (e.g., learning to share, participating in lessons, working in groups), when embraced, also serve to integrate the child into social groups at school. Social approval is obtained when children accept the sanctioned goals of the school setting and they are rewarded and reinforced on a consistent basis through social acceptance by teachers and other students (Wentzel and Looney 2006).

Brint (1998) identifies three major dimensions of socialization as it pertains to schooling.  All three dimensions refer to a type of conformity that identifies an ideal that students are expected to emulate. These ideals are normatively approved and accepted models of what a student should be like to fit into schooling contexts, not only in North America but in virtually all places where formal schooling occurs. The ideals also instill students with a body of knowledge of what it means to be a productive citizen and a desirable member of the public.

The first of these dimensions is behavioural conformity. Behavioural conformity refers to the types of self-regulations of the body that a student must control in order to fit into the school environment. He or she may have to raise a hand to ask questions. Students will be required to sit still during lessons. Students may not touch other students. Students may have to stand in orderly lines in order to have a drink of water. All of these examples require the student to self-regulate his or her body’s physical actions in ways that the child may not have had to do in a family setting.

The second dimension of socialization is moral conformity, which refers to the process of a student internalizing the preferred understanding of what is right and wrong. This type of socialization is accomplished through teachers emphasizing the desirability of certain virtues, such as hard work, equity, being “nice,” and so on. Brint (1998) notes that young children, for example, may be assigned reading material that warns of the consequences of not having such virtues.

The third dimension of socialization is cultural conformity. During the process of cultural conformity, children learn about accepted perspectives and “styles” of expression. These preferred styles reflect normative cultural values about what is valued cultural knowledge. Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital addresses this type of acculturation, stating that teachers regard certain types of outlooks and student styles as more desirable than others and for students to succeed they need to conform to the cultural practices of the dominant social and cultural class.

Brint (1998) identifies three major zones of socialization and associated techniques that are used within classrooms to socialize children into being desirable students, workers and citizens.  The first zone is called the core. The school rules, which must be followed by students, exist at the core. School rules and school codes of conduct are essential features of schools that frame behaviours in a manner such that they produce obedience to authority. The core also consists of embedded practices, which are manners of behaving that are not explicit rules but routine practices within schools that appear to be very natural and taken for granted. Such embedded practices are lining up, doing homework, taking tests, and being evaluated. Many of these features of the core can be understood as not only socializing children into being students, but also preparing them for life as adults within bureaucracies.

Outside of the core are two rings of moral instruction. The inner ring is characterized by explicit moral instruction. In this instruction, children are taught desirable and undesirable virtues. Explicit moral instruction occurs in the elementary grades, when children are socialized to aspire to virtues such as kindness, generosity, courage, and hard work. The outer ring consists of implicit moral instruction, where students are provided with moral exemplars in more sophisticated ways, such as through the curriculum of history and literature. Within the outer ring, teachers and administrators are also included as exemplars of moral behaviour.

11.4 Structural and Social Inequalities in Schooling

There are many characteristics of children and their families that have been found to be strongly associated with children’s educational achievement and, eventually, educational attainment. Educational achievement refers to how well a student does in school and is often assessed in terms of grades or scores on standardized tests, while  educational attainment refers to the highest level of education an individual acquires, and is often assessed in terms of whether or not a person goes on to post-secondary education.

In terms of educational attainment, in 2010, 71 percent of all women aged 25 to 44 had post-secondary education, compared to 64 percent of males in the same age range. Gender is not a barrier to access to post-secondary education in Canada. Women, however, are sharply underrepresented in the natural sciences, applied sciences, engineering, and mathematics (Canadian Council on Learning 2007b). In contrast, women are over-represented in education, health sciences, and social sciences. Women have entered the workforce in increasing numbers over the last several decades, and the vast majority of this increase has been in the “caring professions” such as nursing and teaching. The relative proportion of women in the scientific and technical occupations has declined in relation to the number of women who have entered the workforce.

Male-dominated professions in disciplines such as mathematics and engineering enjoy higher wages than the disciplines that females are more likely to choose. This difference contributes to the persistent wage gap that exists between men and women. Women earn about 68 percent of similarly qualified males. The wage growth of female-dominated professions is also remarkably slower than those dominated by males (Canadian Council on Learning 2007b).

Why don’t women pursue careers in the sciences? Standardized testing results do not reveal great differences between males and females in terms of their abilities in mathematics and science. Simpkins, Davis-Deane, and Eccles (2006), however, have found evidence of girls being less confident in their perceived ability in math and science skills than boys. Such findings suggest that environmental factors perpetuating gender stereotyping are more likely to be the causes behind career choices rather than innate biological and cognitive reasons.

The socio-economic status of a child’s family has been shown repeatedly to be one of the strongest indicators of a child’s educational outcomes (Gorard, Fitz, and Taylor 2001; Ma and Klinger 2000).  Indeed, low socioeconomic status not only is associated with poor grades, but also is a strong predictor of dropping out of school and skipping school. Research has shown that an achievement gap exists between children from low-income families and other families. In other words, children from poor families tend to do less well at school. Theories of social mobility suggest various class-based reasons why such effects may occur. Statistics Canada data show that about 31 percent of youth from families in the lowest 25 percent of household income attended university, compared to just over 50 percent of youth from the highest 25 percent of household income (Frenette 2007). Other studies have found that socioeconomic status of families impacts the likelihood of youth going on to any form of post-secondary education (Finnie, Lascelles, and Sweetman 2005). It is possible that such youth, lacking the financial resources to pay for post-secondary education, find it difficult to secure loans to be able to attend, or find the negative aspects of carrying a large debt load to outweigh the potential benefits of going on with their education. Many may also have not had the influence in the home environment (i.e., emphasizing the benefits of further education) or have school performance (i.e., good enough grades) to make such choices possible (Usher 2005).

Family structure is often examined in terms of the “two-parent biological parent” or “intact” model versus all others. Much research from Canada and elsewhere has shown that compared to “intact” family structures, children from other family forms tend to do less well at school and to have lower educational outcomes. These research findings suggest that such family forms may have fewer resources available for children (social, cultural, and economic) and have fewer role models, and may also be characterized by higher levels of stress, all of which can adversely affect educational outcomes (Frederick and Boyd 1998; Garasky 1995; Hango and de Broucker 2007).

The handful of studies that have examined children in care and educational outcomes have found that these children face significantly more challenges in achieving basic literacy than other children. A review by Snow (2009), examining the educational supports and educational attainments of children in care in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom, found that there are numerous barriers facing these children. Children in care often suffered from poverty, abuse, neglect, and malnutrition before “detection” by the state. Malnutrition affects developmental progress in children and can hamper proper growth of the brain. Abuse and maltreatment can also compromise a child’s emotional and cognitive development. Such children are at a higher risk of conduct disorders and are more likely to have to repeat grades. Numerous studies have also found that children in care are many times more likely to be in need of special education, compared to the general population (Flynn and Biro 1998; Janus and Offord 2007; Scherr 2007; Turpel-Laford and Kendall 2007).

Closely linked to socioeconomic status and social class are neighbourhood characteristics. Families with low socioeconomic status tend to live in areas with lower-cost housing. Sociologists and education researchers have recently become interested in how neighbourhood effects impact on school achievement and attainment. Living in areas with high concentrations of poverty is thought to negatively impact on children’s academic achievement, acting to keep children in cycles of poverty. Children in such neighbourhoods are more likely to have unemployed parents, low-quality schools staffed by discouraged teachers, and constrained social networks that do not give them much access to social contacts who reinforce the value of education. In other words, children living in such neighbourhoods may experience a lack of positive role models. Much research on neighbourhood effects has been based in the United States, however, where neighbourhoods characterized by high poverty are more numerous and have greater levels of crime and racial segregation (Oreopoulos 2008). Many low-income neighbourhoods in Canada are occupied temporarily by new immigrants who leave within five years. An overview of the research on neighbourhood effects on child outcomes in Canada suggests they may have somewhat of an effect on child educational attainment, but that the characteristics of the immediate family are likely to be of greater importance (Oreopoulous 2008).

Differences in standardized test scores by province suggest that educational resources vary by what have come to be known as the “have” and “have not” provinces. For post-secondary education, the federal government does provide federal transfers to ensure high-quality education across the country. But because education from kindergarten to secondary school is under provincial jurisdiction, federal fiscal transfers are not received. Traditional “have” provinces such as Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario have larger budgets to spend on education. This money does not itself ensure better performance by students, but financial resources allow better funding to create educational environments that are more conducive to student learning and success (Davies 1999). PISA results consistently show students from British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario to be at the top of the league tables for Canada (Knighton, Brochu, and Gluszynski 2010).

Additional research has shown that along with regional disparities, there are also marked differences between levels of educational outcomes between urban and rural areas (Desjardins 2011). In rural areas, compared to urban areas, high school dropout rates are significantly higher and PISA scores are significantly lower (Canadian Council on Learning 2006). Reasons for this disparity have been suggested to lie with the difficulty in attracting teachers to rural schools. While rural schools tend to be small and to offer more personalized attention to students, many are faced with staffing problems. Often, they can only attract younger, less experienced teachers who may be burdened with heavy workloads and teaching courses outside their area of expertise (Canadian Council on Learning 2006). Rural schools are also more likely to face difficulties attracting teachers who can teach specialty science courses, many of which are required for admission to post-secondary programs. Also, because economic conditions are often more difficult in rural areas, students (particularly males) are frequently forced to leave school to pursue employment to make up for deficits in their families’ incomes (Looker 2002).

Canada has the highest immigration rate in the world and this is expected to continue partly due to the low fertility rates in Canada. The main reasons that people immigrate to Canada are to be reunited with family members who already live here, humanitarian reasons (i.e., refugees fleeing dangerous situations in their countries of origin), and economic migration (highly skilled immigrants that are deemed to contribute to Canada’s workforce and economy).

There are several reasons why immigrant children may face disadvantages related to their education. Rousseau and Drapeau (2000) found that traumas experienced in the country of origin (due to war) before immigration, combined with cultural uprooting, can lead to emotional problems among refugees, which can in turn hinder educational achievement in refugee children. Their study involved looking at the scholastic achievement of immigrants from Cambodia and Central America who were attending six Montreal-area schools.

Many immigrants, however, do not arrive in Canada as refugees, and therefore other explanations for potential differences in their educational performance compared to native-borns must be examined. The role of socioeconomic status and social mobility were described above. These factors apply to immigrants as well—and many new immigrants live in impoverished communities and have below-average household incomes. Thiessen (2009) has shown that when socioeconomic characteristics of the family are taken into consideration, the gap between students of African and Latin American origin and native-born European Canadians narrows considerably. These findings suggest that much of the disadvantage experienced by some immigrant and Canadian-born ethnic groups is largely attributable to economic factors.

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds and racial minority students are more likely to be “streamed” into low-ability tracks or streams. While existing literature has found streaming had tended to place immigrants and visible minorities in higher ability streams (Krahn and Taylor 2007), many differences by origin group were noted. Specifically, those who had arrived to Canada during adolescence and those with poor official-language proficiency were more likely to be streamed into the lower ability groups.

Socio-cultural context must also be taken into consideration, such as the cultural definitions of success that characterize an ethnic group (Leung 2001). Some researchers argue that part of the answer to why different immigrant groups perform differently in school outcomes lies in the culturally specific expectations that exist within ethnic groups. Borjas (1992) refers to the overall educational and income levels of particular ethnic groups, which are thought to be able to enhance life outcomes of children of immigrants. For example, Chinese immigrants have very high levels of educational attainment, and this group characteristic may contribute to the performance of individual second-generation Chinese immigrants. Borjas (2000) argues that growing up in a culture in which high achievement is displayed as the norm of those in close social proximity makes individuals internalize such goals for themselves. In a study of the educational attainments of children of immigrants, Abada, Hou, and Ram (2008) found that children of Chinese, Indian, African, and West/Asian and Middle Eastern parents had higher ethnic capital. Differences in ethnic capital, however, explain only a part of the gap between the outcomes of different second generation ethnic groups.

Much Canadian research has shown that educational outcomes for Indigenous youth are poor (Aman and Ungerleider 2008; Aydemir, Chen, and Corak 2008; Brunnen 2003; Finnie, Lascelles, and Sweetman 2005; Krahn and Hudson 2006; Thiessen 2009). Researchers have suggested that the poor educational performance of Indigenous students can be traced to several other root causes. Many curricular practices are based on Western European models of learning, which do not take Indigenous knowledge and “ways of knowing” into account (Aikenhead 2006). There is often a large divide between what Indigenous children have been taught about their culture and traditions in the home and the content of curriculum that is taught in schools. Failure to integrate curricular materials that are relevant to Indigenous cultures is argued to be symptomatic of persistent colonial educational practices (Pirbhai-Illich 2010) that perpetuate an internalized colonial ideology of Indigenous cultural inferiority. The absence of culturally relevant curriculum, combined with the low expectations that teachers tend to have for Indigenous students (Riley and Ungerleider 2008), have been argued as two significant disadvantages that Indigenous children face before they even begin school. The relatively low educational attainment of Indigenous students has far-reaching effects. Because educational attainment is strongly linked to economic outcomes, such as how much someone is able to earn in the labour market, failure to obtain even the most basic credentials such as a high school diploma puts many Indigenous persons at a severe disadvantage in the workforce.

Research on sexual minority youth indicates that LGBT adolescents are more likely to drop out and less likely to have post-secondary aspirations, however, Canadian research has found that gay men and lesbian women typically have higher educational attainment than heterosexuals (Carpenter 2008). Almost 25 percent of gay males in Carpenter’s study had completed bachelor’s degrees, compared to 15 percent of heterosexual males. For women, the corresponding figures were 21 percent of lesbians and 17 percent of heterosexual females. The higher educational attainment of gays and lesbians has also been documented in the US population (Black et al. 2000). The disconnect between the low aspirations of sexual minority youth and later-life educational outcomes is difficult to reconcile, although it may be partially due to many young adults experiencing colleges and universities as more LGBT-friendly environments than high schools.

Canadian research has shown that there are many differences in educational outcomes for special needs children that have much to do with the type of disability with which they are faced (Lloyd et al. 2009). Outcomes are also largely contingent on how well the students’ needs are met while in the education system, with those who report unmet needs performing not only much more poorly than those children without disabilities, but also significantly worse than students with disabilities who did not require special education. Children with learning disabilities in particular tend to take fewer classes, take longer to achieve their age-appropriate educational level, and perform less well in school (Hanes, Schwartz, and Werk 2011) than those without learning disabilities. Children with multiple disabilities are at a further disadvantage as they are more likely to have unmet special education needs (Ministry of Industry 2008).

11.5 School to Work Transitions

The purpose of education is not only to socialize students and make them into knowledgeable and productive citizens, but also to prepare them for the labour market. In the past, a high school education has been the gateway to many desirable jobs, but this is less true in today’s economy. Vocational training, college, and university pathways are increasingly being chosen by youths after high school graduation due to the shifting demands of today’s job markets.

A major reason why people pursue post-secondary education is so that they will attain marketable skills that will result in increased employment opportunities. The numbers of Canadians with post-secondary education have been increasing. For example, according to the Canadian census, about 13 percent of Canadians had university degrees in 1981, which more than doubled to around 28 percent in 2006. Similar increases in other forms of post-secondary education have occurred as well.

There are several reasons for the increase in post-secondary credentials. Since the 1950s, there has been an expansion of “white-collar” positions that target educated semi-professionals in administrative or office positions, for example (Owram 1996). The rise in white-collar positions coincided with a decrease in “blue-collar” work, which is characterized by manual labour in the service sector. The middle-class population began to view post-secondary education as a necessary stage for personal economic success. Recently, discussions about the knowledge economy have become commonplace in education policy and research. The knowledge economy refers to a continuously adapting society characterized by a large proportion of jobs based upon the skills of highly educated and technically proficient employees. Many Western governments use the term to talk about education, life-long learning, and employment and skills training programs (Gibb and Walker 2011). A key feature of such economies is that the workers must be able to continuously adapt to and learn new technologies. Workers in the knowledge economy are in the situation of having to update their skills in order to keep up with the changing demands of their jobs. Gibb and Walker (2011) point out that although many governments, including Canada’s, discuss Canada as being a knowledge economy, “knowledge workers” actually make up only a relatively small proportion of jobs in Canada.

Post-secondary education is costly in that it requires not only government expenditure, but also personal investments. In terms of government expenditure, in 2006 Canada devoted 6.1 percent of the GDP (gross domestic product) to educational institutions, and 2.6 percent of this to post-secondary institutions. Among the OECD countries,1 Canada and the USA allocate the largest share of education spending on post-secondary (Canadian Education Statistics Council 2010).

Most students must pay tuition fees in order to attend a post-secondary institution. The tuition fees of post-secondary institutions have been steadily rising over the years. In terms of tuition, the national average university tuition was around $5100 a year in 2010/2011, although this varies considerably by program of study and region. In the same year, tuition fees at Ontario universities were the highest at $6307, followed by fees in New Brunswick, which were just over $5500. The lowest tuition fees in Canada were found in Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, which had average fees of around $2500. Nearly all provinces experienced an increase except for Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick. Nova Scotia, in contrast, experienced an average decrease of around 4.5 percent. Unlike the situation in the United States, education is heavily funded by the territorial and provincial governments; tuition fees obtained from students account for around 20 percent of the total costs of education, while federal funding accounts for under 10 percent.

Tuition has been steadily rising over the years and there are stark differences in tuition rates based on program of study. For example, in 2010–2011, one year of dentistry tuition was $14 701, compared to $3859 for tuition in education fields. In fact, dentistry students pay the highest tuition across Canada, followed by students in medicine and pharmacy at the undergraduate level. At the post-graduate level, however, the most expensive programs in Canada are the master of business (MBA) programs. The “executive” MBA had an average tuition of nearly $29 000 in 2010–2011, while the regular MBA had an average tuition of just over $21 000.2 In contrast, graduate tuitions for most other disciplines such as agriculture, education, engineering, nursing, pharmacy, and the social sciences are around $4500 to $5500 per year. The average student finances his or her education through a combination of means, including employment, government loans, savings, family support, private loans, and grants (Berger, Motte and Parkin 2007).

In terms of personal costs, the pursuit of post-secondary education requires not only a tuition cost, but also the time devoted to studying, and potential forgone wages that could have been accrued had a person not been in education. Individuals making the choice to pursue post-secondary education must weigh the potential opportunity cost against the perceived benefits of the educational credential. An opportunity cost is a term borrowed from economists and refers to the benefits that have to be forgone in order to pursue the activity of choice. In the case of education, there is the opportunity cost of forgoing potential earnings from full-time work while pursuing educational credentials. It is anticipated that there will be future (often economic) benefits to pursuing the education in the long run that would make up for (and exceed) any lost earnings from a low-skilled and poorly paid job.

Related to the idea of opportunity costs is the theory of economic capital. This consists of skills that individuals acquire that are quickly converted into money. Skills acquired through education are a typical example of this type of capital. A related theoretical perspective that is also borrowed from economists is the human capital argument. Human capital refers to personal characteristics that are possessed by the individuals that are transferable into economic reward (Becker 1964), such as education and work experience.

Common to both the idea of the opportunity cost and human capital theory is that individuals make a rational choice when they enter education and training. The choices they make are linked to future perceived economic benefits. Students are students because they hope that upon completion of their degrees, diplomas, or certificates they will enter the workforce into an occupation that economically rewards them more favourably than if they had not pursued the credential.

Upon completion of education, most young adults transition into the labour market, seeking part-time or full-time employment. Unemployment rates among young adults, however, are much higher than in the average adult workforce—often double or even higher. Young adults may face difficulty finding a suitable job or even a job at all. The rate of unemployment among young people varies considerably according to level of education completed. Bayard and Greenlee (2009) demonstrated that the unemployment rates of young adults who hold bachelor’s degrees is lower than the rates of those who have post-secondary diplomas or certificates. Individuals whose highest level of completed education is high school face the highest unemployment rates. These differences by educational attainment have remained rather steady over the years, even in times of economic downturn, such as the early 1990s and the period starting in late 2008.

There are many strategies that young adults use to find a job. The National Graduates Survey of 1995 revealed the many challenges that young adults faced when trying to find employment related to their education, indicating that finding a job with acceptable pay was a major difficulty (28 percent) followed by finding a job that was related to their education (25 percent) (Clark 1999). Nearly one-third of graduates found their job through “networking” through their contacts with family and friends, while a smaller number got jobs through former employers and by making “cold calls” to prospective employers. Individuals who had experience, such as through volunteer work or through co-operative education placements, had an easier time finding career-related work. These findings suggest that social capital was an important factor in finding a job.

Just as more young adults of recent generations are pursuing post-secondary education, so too are more graduates pursuing additional degrees and diplomas. Instead of going directly into the workforce, around one-third of graduates go on to further education (Bayard and Greenlee 2009) and this figure has increased gradually over recent years. Many graduates from undergraduate degrees go on to master’s degrees, which are typically one- or two-year programs. Graduates of master’s degrees may also continue on to doctoral studies, which can take an additional four to seven years of study. Occasionally, doctoral graduates pursue an additional doctoral degree, although this is relatively rare.

The proportion of graduates who pursued further education varies by field of study. College graduates in the humanities were found to be the most likely to pursue additional education, while at the bachelor and master’s levels, natural sciences and technologies graduates were most likely to continue. College graduates in health sciences as well as education degree holders at the undergraduate and master levels were the least likely to pursue additional qualifications.

In terms of employment prospects after pursuing additional qualifications, the highest proportions of graduates working were those who had recently completed a master’s program. In fact, the percentage of master’s degree holders who were in employment (about 97 percent) was higher than for college, bachelor, or doctoral graduates. Of particular note is that the employment gap between males and females at the master’s level has almost disappeared (Bayard and Greenlee 2009).

11.6 Trends in Educational Institutions and Practices

In this section, the focus is on how educational practices in Canada are linked to larger global trends—particularly to the trend of neoliberalism (discussed more fully in Modules Five and Six). The section examines how economic markets are linked to educational trends and changes over time. Attitudinal shifts that are influenced by the close relationship between such economic approaches and related orientations toward education and job training will also be considered.

The term global education is one that is cropping up more and more in education-oriented literature. There is not a single definition of global education that is agreed upon by all users of the term, however. In general, global education refers to the delivery of education in a way that recognizes the context of subjects in a broader geographical framework than simply the one in which the students and teachers live. It is the recognition that topics should be taught from a perspective that acknowledges alternative approaches and promotes intercultural understandings.

While the goals of global education may be viewed as admirable, they are indeed difficult to put into practice and evaluate. This is due to many factors, not least because of the vagueness of the goals themselves and the uncertainty of how to put goals of global education into any meaningful sort of practice (Pike 2000). The idea of what global education entails differs between countries as well. For example, Canadian and British teachers are more likely to regard it as meaning the understanding of how people are connected to the global system, while American teachers are more likely to state that global education refers to learning about different countries and cultures (Pike 2000).

One strategy of promoting global education is to augment civic education, social studies, and/or history (depending on the jurisdiction) with aspects of global citizenship education in the Grades 1 to 12 curricula. As noted by Richardson and Abbott (2009), it is more difficult to talk about global education in Canada than in countries like France and the UK, where national curricula exist. Curricula across Canada vary considerably. We can, however, examine how the different curricula respond to concerns over global citizenship.

Richardson and Abbott (2009) remind us that global citizenship is not a concept that is new to Canadian curricula and that the preferred relationship between students and the larger outside world is one that has changed over time due to various shifts in political outlooks of wider society. Richardson and Abbott (2009) identify five different major imaginaries in the approach of global citizenship education in Canada over time.  Imaginaries are ways of understanding the nature of global citizenship and provide a rationale for promoting such a world view. Imaginaries do not necessarily follow a linear sequence, and elements of more than one may be found overlapping within the same curriculum in a province at any given time.

The first major imaginary is imperialism. In much of the twentieth century, emphasis was placed on teaching children about how to be proper moral citizens and to uphold allegiance to the British Empire. National identity as Canadians was largely framed in terms of imperialist connections to Britain. The world was essentially divided into recognized colonies of the Crown and “other” (Richardson and Abbott 2009), Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth, or “West” and non-West.

The next major imaginary was the Cold War, which refers to the period immediately following the Second World War (1945). Global citizenship education then focused on a different kind of “other.” The world was no longer perceived to be divided into Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth, but was split into communist and non-communist. Much social studies curricula was focused on understanding the differences between the two worlds.

After the focus on the Cold War came the multipolar imaginary, which began in the 1960s. This understanding of the world was framed by the creation of the United Nations and the shift of Canada as a “rising middle power.” The multipolar phase switched the international discourse in curricula to one that focused on international co-operation and interdependence. These changing world views were also embedded in a changed technological landscape in which air travel and advances in telecommunication were contributing to a new “world culture” (Richardson and Abbott 2009:383). The view is also characterized as the “global village” understanding of the world, wherein the mandate of global civic education was to enlighten students as to the interdependent nature of global politics and the great inequalities that existed between nations, with the underlying objective to raise the standard of living in developing countries. While perhaps a noble ambition on the surface, critics (see Merryfield 2001) argue that such a world view is fundamentally the same as that found during the imperialism phase, when it was assumed that the West was a model for all others to follow, ignoring important cultural and historical differences.

The late 1980s saw the emergence of the ecological imaginary, which emphasized environmental concerns about the survival of the planet along with an understanding of cultural diversity and a respect for a variety of world views. Educational approaches focused on getting the student to see the world through the eyes of those from other cultures and nations. The ecological phase was a transformative approach to global citizenship education (Richardson and Abbott 2009) because its focus was on changing the world views of students and getting them to reexamine their own biases and beliefs, rather than changing other cultures.

The most current imaginary of global citizenship education is one that is characterized as monopolar. The prevailing approach that is taught is one rooted in economic neoliberalism, which emphasizes the understanding of the world as a vast market. The emphasis has shifted to the international competitiveness of markets, with consumerism as the core organizing principle. This imaginary, according to Richardson and Abbott (2009), is largely a step backwards in the evolution of such approaches to global citizenship education because it somewhat resembles the previous phases, which stress individualism and competitiveness rather that interdependence and empathy.

Richardson and Abbott (2009) argue that Canadian curriculum currently tends to exhibit characteristics of both the ecological and monopolar imaginaries, which is inherently problematic because of the opposing world views that they occupy. The ecological imaginary emphasizes an empathetic world view, while the monopolar focuses on competitiveness.

11.6.1 Economic Crises and Neoliberal Social Policy

Markets that are linked across borders are a key feature of the current world in which we live. The economic situation of a country determines many practices of its government and market behaviours of its citizens. The recent global economic crisis was a major event that had numerous knock-on effects in various aspects of social life, including work and education. The global economic crisis is directly connected to the current state of education in Canada and around the world particularly when governments declare austerity measures in which public spending is severely cut in order to pay back federal debt.

Davidson-Harden et al. (2009) argue that neoliberal social policy in Canada coincided with massive cuts in federal transfers to the provinces by the federal Liberal Party, rationalized as part of a larger-scale deficit reduction program. These budget cuts affected many social welfare programs across the country and were framed as an attempt to “trim” the welfare state. These cuts in federal transfers resulted in reduced funding to all levels of education.

In terms of K–12 education in Canada, some notable markers of neoliberalism have already been discussed. For example, the creation of “charter” schools in Alberta under the fiscally conservative Ralph Klein government of the 1990s was rationalized as a way to provide “choice” and “alternatives” to parents in terms of public education. It was also suggested that such alternatives put pressure on public schools to perform better so that they can still be seen as attractive to prospective students’ parents. The public funding of private education, which varies from province to province, is also indicative of this understanding of education as a product that can be subject to comparison shopping.

In addition, many provinces are relying on standardized testing of children. Rezai-Rashti (2009) notes that standardized testing and evaluation systems were brought into Ontario during the Premier Mike Harris years, which were characterized by massive structural changes in governance, curriculum, and evaluation procedures. The structural changes were argued to reduce “waste,” while the evaluation and curriculum changes were adopted to increase accountability of teachers and to have precise records of students’ achievement.

Weiner (2003) indicates that public schools are increasingly relying on fundraising in order to meet the gaps left by provincial funding cuts. In affluent neighbourhoods, fundraising by students and parents can be quite successful and garner substantial donations, but schools in economically disadvantaged areas do not have this kind of success in fundraising initiatives. Davidson-Harden et al. (2009) suggest that this increased reliance on fundraising in K–12 is indicative of privatization in public schooling. People for Education (2011), an advocacy group for Ontario public schooling, found in a recent survey of parents of students in public schools and their principals that nearly all public schools in Ontario were involved in some form of fundraising that, per school, funds raised by such efforts varied from zero dollars to $275 000. Additionally, over two-thirds of secondary schools were found to charge fees for courses. New guidelines from the Ontario Ministry of Education are expanding allowable fundraising efforts to enable outdoor structures, renovations to auditoriums and science labs, upgrades to sports facilities, and investments in technology (Ontario Ministry of Education 2011). Such additional allowances on the spectrum of targets for fundraising suggest that the gap between the richer and poorer schools will expand further (People for Education 2011).

For-profit offshore schools can be conceptualized as another attempt to “sell” education. Offshore schools are, at the time of writing, an educational product that is permitted only by the Government of British Columbia in the form of “School District Business Companies” since 2002—when the idea was marketed to school boards as an entrepreneurial opportunity to make money abroad.3 Fifteen school boards acted on this opportunity, resulting in offshore schools around the world, but mostly in Asia.

Another example of the private market creeping into K–12 public education is illustrated in the creation of public-private partnerships, also known as P3s. P3s refer to contracts between the public and private sectors in which skills or investments are made by the private sector into a good that will be offered to the public. The private sector will recoup its investment through various means. For example, a private company may build a structure to be used by a school and then rent that property to the school. Perhaps the most “infamous” case of P3 schools occurred in the 1990s in Nova Scotia, when the Liberal government declared in 1997 that all new schools would be P3 schools—in other words, private companies would be used to build the schools and private companies would retain ownership over the buildings and the province would lease the buildings. A new Conservative government took office in 1999 and investigated the premises behind the new P3 decision. An auditor found that the proposed 38 schools that had been built the P3 way actually ended up costing the province $32 million more than if they had been built by the province. Additionally, the costs of repairs and upgrades to the leased buildings are often the responsibility of the public partner—not the private partner. After a lease of the property expires (typically 25–30 years), the province has the option to buy the building back from the private holder, thus assuming ownership of a 25- to 30-year-old building. P3s have been experimented with in many provinces, with varying degrees of success.

The final, and perhaps most obvious, example of neoliberal practices in K–12 education is advertising in schools. Like fundraising efforts, schools and school boards are frequently seeking additional ways to increase revenue to support programs and equipment that government funding does not cover. In a study of commercialism in Canadian public schools, the Canadian Federation of Teachers (Froese-Germain 2005) found that 28 percent of elementary schools reported advertising for corporations or businesses in or on the school. The respective figure for secondary schools was nearly doubled at 54 percent. According to results, “[m]ost advertising in elementary schools was found on school supplies (11.4%) and in hallways, cafeterias and other school areas (11.1%). In secondary schools, most advertising was found in school areas such as halls and cafeterias (31.5%) and to a lesser extent on school supplies (12.2%) and team uniforms (8.1%)” (Froese-Germain 2005:5). The most frequent corporate advertisers were identified as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. In addition to advertising, many schools were reported to have “exclusive contracts” with either Coke or Pepsi such that only one of these brands would be sold on school property. Advertising in schools is a particularly contentious issue because while it may be a source of much-needed funding, critics argue that it is inappropriate to advertise products to children who are a captive audience inside an institution of learning. Froese-Germain (2005) states that there are at least three concerns that they have about advertising in schools. The first is that supporting unhealthy choices like sugary soft drinks may have health impacts on students, such as putting them at a higher risk of diabetes and promoting childhood obesity. The second reason is about equity—not all schools will be able to attract the same calibre and number of corporate sponsors, giving those schools that are already desirable to advertisers an even greater advantage. The final concern is one that questions the ethics of allowing corporate advertising in schools in the respect that the lessons that they learn in schools about good health and citizenship may be compromised by the very presence of corporate messages in the school corridors.

In terms of post-secondary education, there are also many indicators of neoliberal policy implicit in new trends on campuses. The most obvious shift in recent years is the decrease of government funding to post-secondary education and the increased reliance on tuition fees as a source of revenue. Another effect of neoliberalism, however, is the movement of provinces to approve the development of private, for-profit universities. The law permitting the establishment of private universities was passed in Ontario in 2002 (Postsecondary Student Opportunity Act), in British Columbia in 1985 (first the Trinity Western University Act in 1985, then the Sea to Sky University Act for Quest University in 2002),4 in New Brunswick in 2001 (Degree Granting Act), and most recently in Saskatchewan in 2012 (Saskatchewan’s Degree Authorization Act).5

Metcalfe (2010) argues that although Canadian governments have traditionally distanced themselves from outrightly favouring high-technology programs and promoting partnerships with industry (at least more so than their counterparts in other English-speaking countries), this is becoming more favoured as a source of revenue. The term academic capitalism has been used to describe national-level policies that favour industrial research collaborations, while often undertaken at the cost of revenues directed toward undergraduate education (Slaughter and Leslie 1997). Such targeted partnerships with industry are regarded by some Canadian professors as a threat to academic autonomy (Newson and Polster 2008) because the implications of such alliances will require researchers to pursue topics that are of interest only to businesses, marginalizing many of the research topics that are of interest (and concern) to faculty members. As pointed out by Metcalfe (2010), however, other researchers such as Pries and Guild (2007) are far more enthusiastic about the increasing role of commercialization within the university, understanding them as economically viable opportunities for learning. In addition to industry-funded research in the university, there has also been a noticeable increase in the presence of corporate members on university governance boards.

For example, the board of governors at the University of Calgary in the academic year 2011–2012 included the vice-president and chief financial officer of Shaw Communications and the former vice chair of Enbridge,6 while the board of governors in the same academic year at University of New Brunswick included the chair of BMO Asset Management and the former vice-president of finance for NB Power.7 Research by Carroll and Beaton (2000) has found that members of boards of governors at Canadian universities are increasingly from high-tech industry, signalling more reliance on technology-intensive production in global markets and neoliberal approaches to higher education that value such linkages between industry and universities.

Education researchers and commentators have also argued that another outcome of neoliberalism is that the fundamental purpose of higher education has also undergone an important (and undesirable) shift from education to training (Côté and Allahar 2011; Keeney 2007). The objective of education, as understood from a traditional “liberal education” perspective, is to cultivate the mind of individuals. The neoliberal agenda, however, has shifted this orientation of creating well-informed citizens to a framework of training students for jobs, which focuses on developing a narrow range of skills or specialization in particular tasks. Côté and Allahar explain that “one can only be educated in the liberal arts and sciences: education and training are not inimical to one another; they merely speak to different moments in the complex process of teaching, learning, and sharing information” (2011:15). This shift from universities providing a liberal education to a focus on marketable skills and training is referred to as vocationalism.

Evidence of vocationalism can be observed in the increased offering of diplomas and certificates (rather than degrees) in various fields that presumably signal training in a particular set of skills. Applied degrees are also fairly new arrivals to the university scene, with an “explosion of activity” around the creation of such degrees in Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta (Dunlop 2004). Such degrees are different from the baccalaureate degrees traditionally awarded at universities and are similar in training to what used to be only conventionally available at community colleges (Dunlop 2004)—specific training in skills that are meant to lead directly to jobs. Community colleges in the same provinces also were given the authority to award baccalaureate degrees between the early 1990s and 2000, with New Brunswick and Manitoba following suit in 2008 and 2009, respectively (Jones 2009). Such changes in provincial legislation were often rationalized by provincial leaders as a way of making post-secondary education more market driven by increasing post-secondary competition and emphasizing individual choice (Skolnik 2008). It is also interesting to note that vocationalism of universities is also highly associated with the lessening prestige and emphasis placed on actual vocational training in the skilled trades at the secondary level (Taylor 2005, 2010).

There is a great deal of controversy around the place of applied degrees, certificates, and diplomas within the university system. Traditionally, universities were places of “higher learning” and sites of liberal education, while colleges were places where students went for job training. Increasingly, however, this distinction is being blurred. Dunlop (2004) suggests that because many university graduates went on to “top up” their degrees with training at colleges after graduation, the university has found an opportunity to fulfill a market need. Others, such as Côté and Allahar (2011), find fundamental intellectual flaws in confusing the original mandates of universities and colleges:

. . . to dismiss this distinction and embrace the confusion between education and training is analogous to confusing an apple with an orange. Both apples and oranges are good in their right. But to shift a liberal education system to a vocational one, and then claim the benefits of the liberal education for pseudo-vocational training is not only mistaken, it is dishonest. If we continue to delude ourselves about this, not only will the system degrade further, but also the mixed system we are developing will diminish further the overall legitimacy of the system in the eyes of stakeholders who count on the quality of liberal arts and sciences graduates and the roles for which they are ostensibly certified. (Cote and Allahar 2011:103)

Under neoliberalism, education is seen as a means toward getting a job at an increasing rate of tuition. Education then becomes reframed as a product that is purchased rather than a public good to which all citizens should have access. This has led to a view that students are “consumers” in post-secondary institutions, trying to get undergraduate degrees that are increasingly regarded as the minimum education required to enter the corporate world. As argued by Côté and Allahar (2007), the university in particular has shifted from a place of “elite education” to that of mass education. Participation rates in post-secondary education have increased greatly over the past 20 years, as discussed above. The decreasing per-student amount that is government-funded and the increased number of students has forced post-secondary institutions to find other sources of revenue, including increased tuition fees. Students are more likely now than in the past to perceive a university degree as the necessary minimum credential for getting a good job—a credential that comes with an increasingly hefty price tag.

This view of students as consumers who must be satisfied with the product they have purchased stands in stark contrast to traditional models where teachers and professors are the authority figures in charge of the learning. Such orientations can (and do) result in a clash between teaching staff and students. Newson (2004:231), for example, argues that students who view themselves as consumers may argue that they should not have to participate in class (showing up should be enough) and that their tuition entitles them to a “decent” grade. Wellen (2005) argues that the frustrated responses of teaching staff can play themselves out in the form of “arrogance and condescension,” or professors may instead change the course style and delivery to one that is more entertaining and practical, thereby marginalizing academic values while prioritizing ones that will appease students. This is particularly poignant given that student evaluations of teaching are often used as part of the tenure and promotion process of professors (Lindahl and Unger 2010). Junior faculty members are more likely to feel pressured to please their students, even at the cost of their course content.

The discourse of globalization favours the view that knowledge and knowledge workers will make positive contributions to the economy and that education is the vehicle by which such gains will be made. Education, however, is also becoming a lucrative business opportunity for many countries. The growth of private education, offshore education, and other for-profit education services has been noted by scholars of global education (Heyneman 2001).

In the past few decades, trade agreements have been signed between countries that actively promote this notion of globalization, encouraging (even requiring) trade between countries with fewer barriers. The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) is a multilateral trade agreement pertaining to “trade in services” and was created to “liberalize” such trade in services around the world. The agreement specifically defines restrictions on government measures that may impact on the international trading of services and are legally enforceable through trade sanctions if deemed necessary. The development of the agreement continued in the early 2000s, and only explicitly eliminates government/public services from the process of liberalization.

GATS has caused considerable unease among education researchers worldwide because it is understood as much more than just a trade agreement, but covers every possible manner in which services are provided internationally. Because the agreement openly advocates privatization and deregulation, many critics argue that there are potential risks to higher education (Robertson 2005). If higher education is deemed to be a liberalizable service or commodity that is subject to GATS, there are possible implications for future restrictions and regulations regarding the presence of foreign institutions, tax rules, and restrictions of research grants to domestic universities (CAUT 2012). The GATS does indicate that “services supplied in the exercise of governmental authority” are exempt from GATS, which should cover public higher education in Canada. The Canadian Association of University Teachers (2012), however, argues that the extent to which higher education is public (i.e., subject to governmental authority) varies considerably among countries, with private and public systems existing in many nations. Critics argue that many clauses in this agreement need to be clarified so that the position of higher education in this trade agreement is explicit. Drakich, Grant, and Stewart (2002) suggest that the presence of the private American university, the University of Phoenix, in Canada indicates the liberalization has already begun, despite the Canadian government’s assurance that public education was not subject to such bargaining. The private American post-secondary provider the DeVry Institute of Technology has also made recent inroads into Canada, with its most recent campus established in Calgary.

Many Canadian post-secondary institutions are involved in an ongoing strategy of promoting internationalization.  Internationalization in general refers to the process of creating co-operation and activities across national borders (van der Wende 2001). The internationalization of education is the process of creating linkages between educational institutions and people that span across borders. While internationalization and globalization are often used interchangeably, there are important differences between them. One key difference is that internationalization can be seen as an expression of national self-interest where the nation is a dominant feature. While there may be benefits to individuals from other countries, the basic unit of interest in internationalization is always the individual country. Globalization, in contrast, is oriented toward replacement of national economies with a single global economy characterized by free movement of individuals and capital. The two terms globalization and internationalization are most certainly linked in meaning, but the latter is ostensibly rooted in very specific interests of the state.

Farquhar (2001) has identified four rationale-types for the internationalization of Canadian universities (see also Cudmore 2005a for further discussion). The first is a culturally based rationale, which argues that internationalization will permit Canada’s culture to be more widely (in a global sense) understood. With this understanding will come a higher respect for Canada’s values, which will lead to Canada having more global influence. The second is a politically based rationale,which is concerned with issues such as national security and strategic alliances. International students in Canada can be regarded as potential future citizens who may become part of Canada’s highly skilled workforce. The third is an academically based rationale in which it is surmised that internationalization necessarily adds international elements to the curricular activities, which in turn enhance the academic experiences of both foreign and domestic students. The final rationale is economically based and argues that internationalization is associated with the greater economic performance of a country.

The widespread availability of online technologies and distance learning opportunities offered by increasing numbers of post-secondary institutions around the world means that it is often possible for students who reside in one country to obtain credentials (including degrees) from institutions in different countries without leaving their original country of residence. The term transnational education is often used to describe the educational arrangement where students are physically located in a different country than the credential-awarding institution (van der Wende 2001). Anglo-Saxon countries are the main deliverers of transnational education, with the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia being the world’s dominant providers (van der Wende 2001).

n contrast to transnational education, cross-border education occurs when the host institution essentially becomes mobile (instead of the student). Cross-border education can take several forms. Sometimes post-secondary institutions open branch or satellite campuses in foreign countries where they deliver the same (or similar) degree programs that are offered at the home or main campus (Marginson and McBurnie 2004). For example, the Schulich School of Business at York University is building a campus in Hyerabad, India, scheduled to open in 2013. Although the York business school has been offering its curriculum and degrees to students in India for the past three years through a partnership with the SP Jain Institutive of Management and Research, they believed demand was high enough to necessitate the creation of an entire branch campus in India.12

In addition to branch campuses, other universities are in formal partnerships with post-secondary institutions in other countries. Partnerships are different from branch campuses because the university does not commit to building a physical location on foreign soil. For example, University of British Columbia has a partnership with Mexico’s Tecnologico de Monterrey in 1997 (Bates 2001). Staff at UBC developed five online courses which were then developed in the curriculum at Tec de Monterrey, with the costs of development shared equally by both institutions. Tec de Monterrey was allowed to use these courses anywhere in Latin America, and UBC could also use these course materials elsewhere in the world. After five years, the two institutions decided to enter into a formal partnership, in which both institutions offer a master’s degree in Educational Technology that is available in both English and Spanish, with faculty at both institutions working together on courses.14

Another revenue-creating technique being used by many universities is the recruitment of international students, who are usually required to pay a fee differential, or a rate of tuition that is higher than (sometimes double) that of domestic students. These differentials were brought in by various host countries due to the perception that there were substantial costs associated with subsidizing students from other countries (Woodhall 1987). Introduced in Canada in the 1970s, individual jurisdictions all have different fee structures for international students. In Quebec, however, international students are often not subject to fee differentials due to the province’s official policy of recruiting francophone students from other parts of the world (Eastman 2003, cited in Siddiq, Baroni, Lye, and Nethercote 2010).

Differential fees are a substantial source of revenue for universities, and international students are aggressively recruited due to the high profits they afford many post-secondary institutions—not only in terms of the higher tuitions they pay, but also due to the relatively low cost of hiring these students as research and teaching assistants (Altbach and Knight 2007). For example, universities in Nova Scotia collected almost $19 million in such fees during the 2008/2009 academic year (Siddiq et al. 2010). The charging of differential fees to international students is a practice that currently occurs only in Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Australia. On post-secondary campuses across Canada, there are over 90 000 full-time and 13 000 part-time international students, representing nearly 10 percent of the undergraduate student body and around 20 percent of post-graduate students. International students contribute about $6.5 billion annually to the Canadian economy.16

Critics of fee differentials argue that universities use international students as a source of revenue while ostensibly hiding behind an official ideology of cultural enhancement in which the recruitment of international students is promoted as fostering a multicultural environment that will augment the educational experiences of both foreign and domestic students. The Canadian Federation of Students (2008) is highly critical of fee differentials, arguing that such practices limit education-based emigration to students from wealthy families.

While some approaches to global education at the primary and secondary levels of education were discussed above, the mandate of attracting international students from abroad is often couched in the rationale of adding diversity to university campuses. Inherent in such discussions is the desire to add a global dimension to the education experienced by post-secondary students, both foreign and domestic. But how successful are Canadian post-secondary institutions at increasing not only the composition of their student bodies, but also the international and intercultural dimensions of their courses and programs? In 2000, 60 percent of post-secondary institutions in Canada that were surveyed in an Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada report (AUCC) indicated they did not have any way of monitoring or assessing the international dimensions of the programs or courses offered at their institutions, with only a quarter of universities indicating that a review process was being developed and just 15 percent stating that a process was already in place (Weber 2007). Such results suggest that a low priority has been given to some of the purported benefits of internationalization (Knight 2000). An update of the survey in 2006 (AUCC 2007b) provides little comparative data. Between the two years, universities that offer programs with an international focus grew from 53 to 61, and the overall number of academic programs with an international focus climbed from 267 to 356. However, university programs requiring graduates to have knowledge of a second language decreased from 16 percent to 9 percent.

There exists scant research on the internationalization efforts on Canadian campuses with regard to how successful they have been at incorporating intercultural and international perspectives. A handful of case studies appear in the literature, however. Hanson (2010), for example, describes an internationalization attempt at a global health program at University of Saskatchewan, citing evidence of “global citizenship” and “personal transformation” in students who had taken the courses. An additional issue in internationalization also relates to individual disciplines and how much internationalization is indeed possible in their fields. Some programs may lend themselves more readily to internationalization of the curriculum (e.g., cultural studies, sociology) than others (e.g., mathematics, biology). Indeed, the AUCC (2007a) found that the five most popular disciplines reporting successful internationalization of their curricula were global studies, European studies, international business, development studies, and Asian studies—disciplines that by their very nature are rooted in global conceptualizations of their subject matter.

In terms of the reported strategies that are most frequently employed in university efforts to internationalize the curriculum, the use of international scholars and visiting experts, the use of international or intercultural case studies, organizing international field/study tours, and encouraging students to work or study abroad were the techniques most frequently identified by Canadian university administrators (AUCC 2007a).17

While most Canadian universities offer some online courses, a few offer entire degrees that can be completed online. Indeed, student services such as advising and library services can also be done entirely online without the need for students to ever physically visit the degree-granting campus. There are two universities in Canada that are devoted entirely to online delivery: Athabasca University (in Alberta) and TÉLUQ (attached to l’Université du Québec à Montréal). Royal Roads in British Columbia also has a high proportion of its course delivery online, but brief periods of residency are required.

Canadian Virtual Universities is a consortium of English and French universities in Canada that came together to share resources and facilitate credit transfer across jurisdictions (CVU 2012). Students may be wary of acquiring online credentials because of the negative association such degrees have with US-based for-profit online universities (such as the University of Phoenix). CVU (2012) argues that Canadian universities would benefit from promoting the fact that quality assurance, transferability, and course comparability are ensured through member universities of CVU.

Most CVU students are domestic, with only a very small percentage (one to three percent) taking the courses and degrees from a different country. In contrast, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia take a much greater global share of international students who reside outside of the country’s borders (CVU 2012). There are many potential reasons for the relatively low uptake of Canadian online degrees by non-resident international students compared to other countries, including the prestige associated with particular institutions in the United States, UK, and Australia, legal and financial restrictions, and differences in professional accreditation (CVU 2012).

As described above, changes in government policies and funding have meant that tuition fees have been rising for students, as the portion of governmental funding to post-secondary educational institutions has slowly shrunk over the past few decades. Still, however, Canadian university tuition fees are substantially lower than those found in other English-speaking countries, apart from New Zealand (OECD 2011), as shown in Figure 9.1. Recent fee restructuring changes in the United Kingdom that will be implemented in the academic year 2012–2013 will also substantially increase the distance between the tuition charged to UK-based students and those in Canada, as the Conservative government in the UK voted to remove tuition caps, which allow universities to charge a maximum of £9000 per year (approximately $14 000 CND). The maximum fee that UK universities were allowed to charge in 2010–2011 was just over £3000. Of the 123 universities in the UK, over half have announced that they will charge the maximum fee, while none have indicated they will charge less than £6000 per year.18

The OECD (2011) has identified four models of how countries approach funding tertiary education. Countries are divided into the four models according to how much of the cost of tertiary education is derived from tuition, how much student aid is available, the rates at which young people participate in tertiary education, and the overall public expenditure (as measured by GDP spending on tertiary education). Models 1 and 4 are similar in the respect that they charge very low (or no) tuition fees. Model 1 is comprised of the Nordic countries, which are often characterized by their deeply rooted social values that emphasize equality of opportunity, framing access to tertiary education as a right rather than a privilege. These countries often offer high student aid (to support students through their studies). Public expenditure on tertiary education is high, and is obtained through the higher taxation systems in these countries. To contrast, the various countries in Model 4 have low tuition, but also traditionally low levels of student aid. The participation rates in tertiary education are also much lower than in other models—less than 50 percent. Clearly there are factors other than tuition fees that influence students in these countries to go on to tertiary education.

Countries in Model 2 are the English-speaking nations and the Netherlands (which only recently joined this group). Students in Model 2 pay high tuition fees and have high access to student aid. There is also high uptake of tertiary education and relatively low to moderate public expenditure on funding for post-secondary education. In contrast, students in Model 3 in Japan and Korea pay high tuition fees and have little access to student aid. The participation rates in Japan and Korea also vary significantly, and recent reforms in 2009 to the student support system suggest that Japan may soon be more like a Model 2 country.

Model 2 countries’ increased reliance on funding tertiary education by private tuition has led to an increased financial burden carried by students. Essentially, education is something that is becoming expensive to purchase. And there is an increasing perception that an undergraduate degree is an essential educational credential that is required for entry to the labour market, resulting in the steady increases in tertiary enrolment that are observed in the last 20 years—22 percent of adults aged 20 to 29 in 1995 to 26 percent in 2008 (OECD 2011). These increased enrolments, along with the cultural belief that having a degree is essential for getting any kind of “good” job later on, have been referred to as the massification of education  (Mount and Bélanger 2004). As noted earlier in this chapter with regard to the discussion on neoliberalism, critics have argued that this focus on the cost of education is changing the expectations that students have about their post-secondary experiences, transforming them from students into consumers. Many post-secondary institution administrators are even referring to students as clients, reflecting a general shift toward reconceptualizing the role of students in institutions of higher learning. The shifting role of student from “empty vessel to be filled with knowledge” to a demanding consumer is resisted by many faculty members, however. For example, Newson (2004) argues that it is fundamentally erroneous to consider students as consumers or clients because they are simply not free to choose what they learn and how they learn it (this is still the domain of the teaching faculty). Additionally, the “product” of an education is not something tangible, but is the ongoing transformation of the student through learning, not simply the degree that she or he has paid for.

In a survey of faculty and librarians conducted by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) in 2009, nearly 62 percent of respondents indicated that their class sizes had increased compared to just three years ago. Additionally, 40 percent indicated that they believed students were receiving less educational quality than just three years ago, pointing to oversubscribed courses where there were more students than available seats, large lecture-style courses replacing small-group seminars in upper year courses, and more reliance on multiple-choice style testing to ease workload. In addition to perceived deteriorating teaching conditions, 55 percent of respondents said that current students were less prepared for university than students just three years ago. Signals of this unpreparedness included clear declines in writing and numeric skills, expectations of success without effort, and overdependence on online sources rather than proper library research.19 Indeed, a literature is currently growing on the perceived unreadiness of new undergraduate students (see Côté and Allahar 2007, 2011), arguing that students are not being prepared in secondary school for the types of skills that have traditionally been assumed by university teachers in the past.

Professor Alan Slavin, a physics professor at Trent University, was interested in understanding the increased rate of dropouts from his introductory physics courses over recent years (Slavin 2008). He suggests that there are a few possible reasons for such increases. The first is grade inflation in high schools. Grade inflation refers to the increase in overall scores being given to work that in the past would have received lower grades. And, indeed, other authors (Côté and Allahar 2007, 2011) point to strong evidence of grade inflation over the past two decades: a grade of “A” meant “excellent” in previous generations, but is now considered “respectable.20 And while there is widespread consensus that there has been grade inflation in the United States, Australia, the UK, and other countries, it appears that little is being done to stop it (Côté and Allahar 2011). Such critics argue that the result of grade inflation is that students are highly rewarded in secondary school for substandard work with minimal effort and experience a shock when these types of grading techniques are not carried over into university practices. Slavin (2008) also suggests that secondary schools have tended to rely on rote memorization of “facts” rather than developing critical reasoning skills due to the emphasis on performing well on standardized tests at the secondary level—a shift that occurred in Ontario in the 1990s during the first stages of neoliberal reforms.

Some Canadian universities have recognized that grade inflation is a problem and are changing the way that they assess undergraduate applications. The University of British Columbia is now requiring students to submit a personal profile in addition to their high school marks. The profile consists of answers to five short answer questions in which an applicant’s non-academic strengths may be evaluated. And because students’ final grades in Alberta are heavily impacted, and generally reduced, by their performance on standardized diploma exams, the University of Saskatchewan is now looking at both the high school marks and diploma exam marks of applicants from Alberta so that they are not disadvantaged relative to students from other provinces where such diploma exams are not used or factored so heavily into final grades (Tamburri 2012).

Faculty members and students also differ on their understanding of what constitutes a good grade, likely due to a combination of the history of grade inflation and the increasing expense of tuition. The term has been used to describe “an attitude marked by students’ beliefs that they are owed something in the educational experience apart from what they might earn from their effort” (Singleton-Jackson, Jackson, and Reinhardt 2010:343). In a focus group study of first-year students at the University of Windsor, Singleton-Jackson, Jackson, and Reinhardt (2010) found considerable evidence of attitudes toward academic entitlement, often captured in the sentiment that students should at least be expected to pass given that they pay such high tuition fees. The responsibility for passing appeared to be transferred to the professor, who participants in the study thought should recognize their payment and grant them a pass—a great departure from the professorial perspective that students should be evaluated based on their performance of the course requirements. Despite this difference, however, Singleton et al. (2010) argue that it is likely that the system is the source of the entitled feelings among students because the institution treats students as customers, leading to customer-like expectations:

The idea of consumerism and these sentiments of academic entitlement are strongly linked to one another. Canadian researchers have called this phenomenon degree purchasing, wherein the credential of getting a degree is seen as a vehicle for employment opportunities rather than as an opportunity for learning (Brotheridge and Lee 2005). Canadian research has found that students who had strong degree purchasing orientations also had poorer study habits, performed poorly in courses, and were more likely to challenge the authority of their teachers (Brotheridge and Lee 2005).

Another concern for post-secondary teachers is student engagement, which refers to the amount of time and effort that students put into their studies. Côté and Allahar (2011) demonstrate that the amount of time students spend on their studies outside class has dropped significantly since the 1960s, when it was around 40 hours, to now, when it is around 14 hours. The authors explore different arguments for this change in study time, including the possibility that students’ time is now spent in paid employment or caring for dependants; however, their analyses of the National Survey of Student Engagement reveal that there is little association between time devoted to study and paid employment. If anything, their data indicate that those who work were more engaged. In contrast, time spent socializing was found to have a bigger effect on time displacement from studying. Most strikingly, however, was the finding that a great proportion of students who were disengaged reported receiving consistently high grades, suggesting that they were being highly rewarded for their marginal efforts. The authors suggest that such a finding points to fundamental flaws in the grading standards being used at Canadian universities today and in the expectations of professors.

One additional symptom of student disengagement is academic dishonesty , more commonly referred to as cheating. In a recent study by Christensen Hughes and McCabe (2006b) of university students across Canada, undergraduate students were asked about their current studies as well as their behaviours in high school. The researchers asked the students about various forms of cheating, ranging from “mild” (e.g., working on an assignment with others when the instructor had indicated individual work) to serious (e.g., copying on an exam). In terms of serious cheating on tests, 58 percent of students said they had engaged in a form of serious cheating on test while in high school, while 18 percent of undergraduates and 9 percent of graduate students admitted to serious cheating on tests. With regard to serious cheating on written work, nearly three-quarters of students indicated that they had done so in high school, while over half of undergraduates admitted to serious cheating while in university. Over a third of graduate students indicated they had participated in serious cheating on written assignments. While the authors caution that the results are not generalizable to all students in Canada, they suggest that the findings point to potential areas of concern.

Which students cheat and why? Christensen Hughes and McCabe (2006b) found that cheating occurs more among students who are young, male, overworked, have a different first language from that of instruction, suffer from anxiety, or have high grade-point averages. The latter characteristic—having high grade point averages—might be regarded as counter-intuitive; however, students may use cheating as a technique to ensure that they receive an A, particularly during high-pressure times in the school year.

There is also some consensus that the most pervasive form of plagiarism is copying from online sources, which is likely due to the accessibility and structure of the internet itself, constituting a type of “electronic opportunism” that many students might not be able to resist (Rocco and Warglien 1995; Selwyn 2008). Indeed, many universities in Canada and beyond have reported marked increases in plagiarism in recent years since the accessibility and availability of online information has increased. For example, in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the University of Toronto, cases of online plagiarism rose from 55 percent of academic misconduct offences to 99 percent between 2001 and 2002 (Wahl 2002). Other researchers have suggested that students regard online plagiarism as less wrong than offences using sources that are in print (Baruchson-Arbib and Yaari 2004). Other commentators on the issue argue that such pervasiveness in online cheating is a byproduct of university massification (Breen and Maassen 2005; Underwood and Szabo 2004), whereby students feel increased pressure to get the highest grades possible. This may be compounded by perceived inadequate access to professors and libraries, reframing cheating as a required “survival strategy.”

One additional explanation behind the alleged culture of disengagement of Millennials (or Generation Y) is that newer generations of students find traditional pedagogies unstimulating due to the students’ greater “technological savviness.” Proponents of such arguments often advocate the adoption of technology in the classroom to engage students. Indeed, more recent incoming cohorts of undergraduate students represent what Prensky (2001) called digital nativesDigital natives are individuals who grew up with high-tech devices and started interacting with such devices at an early age. The assumption is that such individuals are inherently comfortable with technology and even seek out ways to incorporate technology into their everyday lives.

There are various ways that technologies can be incorporated into teaching and a developing body of evidence as to their effectiveness. Laptop computers, once hailed as a tool to aid students in the classroom, are increasingly being banned in university classrooms.26 Some professors perceive laptops to be distracting, with students looking at social media sites (e.g., Facebook), checking their email, or shopping online during class. Moreover, looking at distracting web content during a lecture distracts not only the student who is doing it but potentially those around him or her. Recent research by Fried (2008) has found evidence that in-class laptop use is actually detrimental to student learning; users reported decreased understanding of the course material and overall worse course performance.

Apart from technologies that students use on their own, most post-secondary institutions in Canada subscribe to web-enhanced course management systems, such as Moodle, WebCT, Blackboard or Canvas. These platforms allow instructors to post course materials such as the course syllabus, PowerPoint presentations, and lecture notes; conduct online quizzes; create discussion forums; and manage student grades. Course instructors may also supplement their course materials with audio or video presentations of lectures. Despite the availability of course management systems and the enthusiasm with which post-secondary administrators encourage faculty to adapt such techniques, there is little evidence of how the effectiveness of the incorporation of technology into the classroom enhances the learning of this newest generation of students (Bennett, Maton, and Kervin 2008). Furthermore, there is also a lack of evidence that this generation has any particular learning style. In fact, Bennett, Maton, and Kervin (2008) argue that it is difficult to imagine that generations themselves have learning styles, and just like other personal characteristics, preferences for learning vary from student to student. At the core of many suggested teaching strategies is the belief that such digital natives learn and process information differently and that in order to engage such students, teachers must change their teaching styles accordingly. However, Vaidhyanathan (2008) has gone so far as to argue that the Net Generation is a myth, noting that in actuality, very few of today’s students (or young people in general) are “technology wizards” but that they are capable of basic use of gadgets and social networking websites because they are enjoyable to use. Rather than a technologically savvy generation, the actual technological aptitude of students—like anyone else—varies considerably.

One notable piece of Canadian research examined the opinions of nearly 1300 students on electronic resources and their use in teaching (Rogers, Usher, and Kaznowska 2011). The findings also supported previous research from Australia that did not find much evidence of the “digital native” and their supposedly voracious appetite for online learning and education-related technologies. The researchers actually found that an increase in e-learning resources was associated with a lessened degree of perceived comprehension. This is not to say that electronic resources decreased learning, but that students did not report learning more in courses using e-learning techniques than they did in courses that used none. Interestingly, when students were asked about the types of e-resources that they would most like to see, the majority of them answered more in favour of “static” items such as courses readings than “active” elements such as online discussions.

11.7 Theoretical Perspectives on Education

In this module you have been introduced to the meaning and purpose of education, the history, structure, organization and delivery of education in Canada and a selection of trends within educational institutions and practice that have coincided with the rise to dominance of neoliberal social policy.  While it is clear that education plays a central role in the lives of individuals as well as society, sociologists view that role from a variety of perspectives. For example, functionalists believe that education equips people to perform different functional roles in society. Critical sociologists view education as a means of widening the gap in social inequality. Feminist theorists point to evidence that sexism in education continues to prevent women from achieving a full measure of social equality. Symbolic interactionists study the dynamics of the classroom, the interactions between students and teachers, and how those affect everyday life. In this final section of Module Eleven, features of each of these different approaches are highlighted.

11.7.1 Functionalism

Functionalists view education as one of the more important social institutions in a society. They contend that education contributes two kinds of functions: manifest (or primary) functions, which are the intended and visible functions of education; and latent (or secondary) functions, which are the hidden and unintended functions.

Manifest Functions

There are several major manifest functions associated with education. The first is socialization. Beginning in preschool and kindergarten, students are taught to practise various societal roles. The French sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858–1917), who established the academic discipline of sociology, characterized schools as “socialization agencies that teach children how to get along with others and prepare them for adult economic roles” (Durkheim 1898).

This socialization also involves learning the rules and norms of the society as a whole. In the early days of compulsory education, students learned the dominant culture. Today, since the culture of Canada is increasingly diverse, students may learn a variety of cultural norms, not only that of the dominant culture.

School systems in Canada also transmit the core values of the nation through manifest functions like social control. One of the roles of schools is to teach students conformity to law and respect for authority. Obviously, such respect, given to teachers and administrators, will help a student navigate the school environment. This function also prepares students to enter the workplace and the world at large, where they will continue to be subject to people who have authority over them. Fulfillment of this function rests primarily with classroom teachers and instructors who are with students all day.

Students sitting in desks listen to the teacher at the front of the room.
Figure 16.6. The teacher’s authority in the classroom is a way in which education fulfills the manifest functions of social control. (Photo courtesy of Tulane Public Relations/flickr)

Education also provides one of the major methods used by people for upward social mobility. This function is referred to as social placement. University and graduate schools are viewed as vehicles for moving students closer to the careers that will give them the financial freedom and security they seek. As a result, university students are often more motivated to study areas that they believe will be advantageous on the social ladder. A student might value business courses over a class in Victorian poetry because he or she sees business class as a stronger vehicle for financial success.

Latent Functions

Education also fulfills latent functions. Much goes on in school that has little to do with formal education. For example, you might notice an attractive fellow student who gives a particularly interesting answer in class — catching up with with that student and making a date speaks to the latent function of courtship fulfilled by exposure to a peer group in the educational setting.

The educational setting introduces students to social networks that might last for years and can help people find jobs after their schooling is complete. Of course, with social media such as Facebook and LinkedIn, these networks are easier than ever to maintain. Another latent function is the ability to work with others in small groups, a skill that is transferable to a workplace and that might not be learned in a homeschool setting.

The educational system, especially as experienced on university campuses, has traditionally provided a place for students to learn about various social issues. There is ample opportunity for social and political advocacy, as well as the ability to develop tolerance to the many views represented on campus. In 2011, the Occupy Wall Street movement swept across university campuses all over Canada, leading to demonstrations in which diverse groups of students were unified with the purpose of changing the political climate of the country.

Table 11.2. Manifest and Latent Functions of Education. According to functionalist theory, education contributes to both manifest and latent functions.
Manifest Functions: Openly stated functions with intended goals Socialization Transmission of culture Social control Social placement Cultural innovation
Latent Functions: Hidden, unstated functions with sometimes unintended consequences Courtship Social networks Working in groups Creation of generation gap Political and social integration

Functionalists recognize other ways that schools educate and enculturate students. An important value students in Canada learn is that of individualism — the valuing of the individual over the value of groups or society as a whole. In countries such as Japan and China, where the good of the group is valued over the rights of the individual, students do not learn as they do in Canada that the highest rewards go to the “best” individual in academics as well as athletics. One of the roles of schools in Canada is fostering self-esteem; conversely, schools in Japan focus on fostering social esteem — the honouring of the group over the individual.

In Canada, schools also fill the role of preparing students for competition and cooperation in life. Obviously, athletics foster both a cooperative and competitive nature, but even in the classroom, students learn both how to work together and how to compete against one another academically. Schools also fill the role of teaching patriotism. Although Canadian students do not have to recite a pledge of allegiance each morning, like students in the United States, they do take social studies classes where they learn about common Canadian history and identity.

A young boy salutes the American flag.
Figure 16.7. Starting each day with the Pledge of Allegiance is one way in which American students are taught patriotism. How do Canadian students learn patriotism? (Photo courtesy of Jeff Turner/flickr)

Another role of schools, according to functionalist theory, is that of sorting, or classifying students based on academic merit or potential. The most capable students are identified early in schools through testing and classroom achievements. Exceptional students are often placed in accelerated programs in anticipation of successful university attendance. Other students are guided into vocational training programs with emphasis on shop and home economics.

Functionalists also contend that school, particularly in recent years, is taking over some of the functions that were traditionally undertaken by family. Society relies on schools to teach about human sexuality as well as basic skills such as budgeting and job applications — topics that at one time were addressed by the family.

11.7.2 Critical Sociology

Critical sociologists do not believe that public schools reduce social inequality. Rather, they believe that the educational system reinforces and perpetuates social inequalities arising from differences in class, gender, race, and ethnicity. Where functionalists see education as serving a beneficial role, critical sociologists view it more critically. To them, it is important to examine how educational systems preserve the status quo and guide people of lower status into subordinate positions in society.

Young kids hide behind a hockey net while another boy kicks a ball at them.
Figure 16.8. Critical sociologists see the education system as a means by which those in power stay in power. (Photo courtesy Thomas Ricker/flickr)

The fulfillment of one’s education is closely linked to social class. Students of low socioeconomic status are generally not afforded the same opportunities as students of higher status, no matter how great their academic ability or desire to learn. For example, 25 of every 100 low-income Canadian 19-year-olds attend university compared to 46 of every 100 high-income Canadian 19-year-olds (Berger, Motte, and Parkin 2009). Barriers like the cost of higher education, but also more subtle cultural cues, undermine the promise of education as a means of providing equality of opportunity.

Picture a student from a working-class home who wants to do well in school. On a Monday, he’s assigned a paper that’s due Friday. Monday evening, he has to babysit his younger sister while his divorced mother works. Tuesday and Wednesday he works stocking shelves after school until 10:00 p.m. By Thursday, the only day he might have available to work on that assignment, he is so exhausted he cannot bring himself to start the paper. His mother, though she would like to help him, is so tired herself that she isn’t able to give him the encouragement or support he needs. Since English is her second language, she has difficulty with some of his educational materials. They also lack a computer and printer at home, which most of his classmates have, so they have to rely on the public library or school system for access to technology. As this story shows, many students from working-class families have to contend with helping out at home, contributing financially to the family, having poor study environments, and lacking material support from their families. This is a difficult match with education systems that adhere to a traditional curriculum that is more easily understood and completed by students of higher social classes.

Such a situation leads to social class reproduction, extensively studied by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. He researched how, parallel to economic capital (as analyzed by Marx), cultural capital, or the accumulation of cultural knowledge that helps one navigate a culture, alters the experiences and opportunities available to French students from different social classes. Bourdieu emphasized that like economic capital, cultural capital in the form of cultural taste, knowledge, patterns of speech, clothing, proper etiquette, etc. is difficult and time consuming to acquire. Members of the upper and middle classes have more cultural capital than families of lower-class status, and they can pass it on to their children from the time that they are toddlers. As a result, the educational system maintains a cycle in which the dominant culture’s values are rewarded. Instruction and tests cater to the dominant culture and leave others struggling to identify with values and competencies outside their social class. For example, there has been a great deal of discussion over what standardized tests such as the IQ test and aptitude tests truly measure. Many argue that the tests group students by cultural ability rather than by natural intelligence.

The cycle of rewarding those who possess cultural capital is found in formal educational curricula as well as in the hidden curriculum (discussed above), which refers to the type of nonacademic knowledge that one learns through informal learning and cultural transmission. The hidden curriculum is never formally taught but it is implied in the expectation that those who accept the formal curriculum, institutional routines, and grading methods will be successful in school. This hidden curriculum reinforces the positions of those with higher cultural capital, and serves to bestow status unequally.

Critical sociologists also point to tracking, a formalized sorting system that places students on “tracks” (advanced versus low achievers) that perpetuate inequalities. While educators may believe that students do better in tracked classes because they are with students of similar ability and may have access to more individual attention from teachers, critical sociologists feel that tracking leads to self-fulfilling prophecies in which students live up (or down) to teacher and societal expectations (Education Week 2004).

As noted above, IQ tests have been attacked for being biased — for testing cultural knowledge rather than actual intelligence. For example, a test item may ask students what instruments belong in an orchestra. To correctly answer this question requires certain cultural knowledge — knowledge most often held by more affluent people who typically have more exposure to orchestral music. On the basis of IQ and aptitude testing, students are frequently sorted into categories that place them in enriched program tracks, average program tracks, and special needs or remedial program tracks. Though experts in testing claim that bias has been eliminated from tests, conflict theorists maintain that this is impossible. The tests are another way in which education does not provide equal opportunities, but instead maintains an established configuration of power.

11.7.3 Feminist Theory

Feminist theory aims to understand the mechanisms and roots of gender inequality in education, as well as their societal repercussions. Like many other institutions of society, educational systems are characterized by unequal treatment and opportunity for women. Almost two-thirds of the world’s 862 million illiterate people are women, and the illiteracy rate among women is expected to increase in many regions, especially in several African and Asian countries (UNESCO 2005; World Bank 2007).

In Canada women’s educational attainments have slowly been increasing with respect to men’s. Women now make up 56% of all post-secondary students and 58% of graduates from post-secondary institutions in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2013). Canadian women in fact have the highest percentage of higher educational attainment among all OECD countries at 55%. A university education is also more financially advantageous for women in Canada than men relatively speaking. Women with a higher education degree earn on average 50% more than they would without higher education compared to 39% more for men. However, men with higher education were more likely to have a job than women with higher education (84.7% to 78.5%), and women earned less than men in absolute terms with their education: 74 cents for each dollar earned by men for ages 24 to 64  (OECD, 2012).

A Statistics Canada study released in 2011 showed that, among full-time employed men and women aged 25 to 29 with a graduate or professional degree, women still earned only 96 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2005. (With a bachelor`s degree they earned 89 cents for every dollar earned by men.) This trend was similar among all fields of study except for physical and life sciences, and technologies and  health, parks, recreation and fitness where women actually earned more than men (Turcotte, 2011).

When women face limited opportunities for education, their capacity to achieve equal rights, including financial independence, are limited. Feminist theory seeks to promote women’s rights to equal education (and its resultant benefits) across the world.

11.7.4 Symbolic Interactionism

Symbolic interactionism sees education as one way that the labelling theory can be demonstrated in action. A symbolic interactionist might say that this labelling has a direct correlation to those who are in power and those who are being labelled. For example, low standardized test scores or poor performance in a particular class often lead to a student being labelled as a low achiever. Such labels are difficult to “shake off,” which can create a self-fulfilling prophecy (Merton 1968).

In his book High School Confidential, Jeremy Iverson details his experience as a Stanford graduate posing as a student at a California high school. One of the problems he identifies in his research is that of teachers applying labels that students are never able to lose. One teacher told him, without knowing he was a bright graduate of a top university, that he would never amount to anything (Iverson 2006). Iverson obviously didn’t take this teacher’s false assessment to heart. However, when an actual 17-year-old student hears this from a person with authority, it is no wonder that the student might begin to “live down to” that label.

The labelling with which symbolic interactionists concern themselves extends to the very degrees that symbolize completion of education. Credentialism embodies the emphasis on certificates or degrees to show that a person has a certain skill, has attained a certain level of education, or has met certain job qualifications. These certificates or degrees serve as a symbol of what a person has achieved, allowing the labelling of that individual.

Indeed, as these examples show, labelling theory can significantly impact a student’s schooling. This is easily seen in the educational setting, as teachers and more powerful social groups within the school dole out labels that are adopted by the entire school population.

To conclude this introduction to the sociology of education, a short video on the etymology of educational vocabulary demonstrating why attention to language, its roots, history and meaning can be a tremendous asset in ones development of a sociological imagination.

Key Terms and Concepts

credentialism: The emphasis on certificates or degrees to show that a person has a certain skill, has attained a certain level of education, or has met certain job qualifications.

cultural capital: Cultural knowledge that serves (metaphorically) as currency to help one navigate a culture.

cultural transmission: The way people come to learn the values, beliefs, and social norms of their culture.

education: A social institution through which a society’s children are taught basic academic knowledge, learning skills, and cultural norms.

formal education: The learning of academic facts and concepts.

grade inflation: The idea that the achievement level associated with an A today is notably lower than the achievement level associated with A-level work a few decades ago.

hidden curriculum: The type of nonacademic knowledge that one learns through informal learning and cultural transmission.

informal education: Learning about cultural values, norms, and expected behaviours through participation in a society.

social placement: The use of education to improve one’s social standing.

sorting: Classifying students based on academic merit or potential.

tracking: A formalized sorting system that places students on “tracks” (advanced, low achievers) that perpetuate inequalities.

universal access: The equal ability of all people to participate in an education system.

11.8 References

16.1. Education around the World
Knighton, Tamara, Perre Brochu and Tomasz Gluszynski. (2010, December). Measuring up: Canadian results of the OECD PISA study [PDF]. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 81-590-X. Retrieved July 7, 2014, from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/81-590-x/81-590-x2010001-eng.pdf.

Morgan, Charlotte. (2003). A brief history of special education. [PDF] ETFO Voice, Winter: 10-14. Retrieved July 7, 2014, from http://www.etfo.ca/SiteCollectionDocuments/Publication%20Documents/Voice%20-%20School%20Year%202002-3/Winter%202003/Brief_History_Special_Ed.pdf.

National Public Radio. (2010, December 10). Study confirms U.S. falling behind in education. All Things Considered. Retrieved July 12, 2016 from http://www.npr.org/2010/12/07/131884477/Study-Confirms-U-S-Falling-Behind-In-Education

OECD. (2013). Education at a glance 2013: OECD indicators. [PDF] OECD Publishing. Retrieved July 7, 2014, from http://www.oecd.org/edu/eag2013%20%28eng%29–FINAL%2020%20June%202013.pdf.

Siegel, Linda and Stewart Ladyman. (2000). A review of special education in British Columbia. [PDF] Victoria: B.C. Ministry of Education. Retrieved July 7, 2014, from http://www.featbc.org/downloads/review.pdf.

Statistics Canada. (2012, September). Education indicators in Canada: An international perspective. [PDF] Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 81-604-X.  Retrieved July 7, 2014, from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/81-604-x/81-604-x2012001-eng.pdf.

World Bank. (2011). Education in Afghanistan. Retrieved December 14, 2011, from http://go.worldbank.org/80UMV47QB0.

16.2. Theoretical Perspectives on Education
Berger, Joseph, Anne Motte and Andrew Parkin (Eds.). (2009). The price of knowledge access and student finance in Canada (Fourth Edition) [PDF]. Montreal: Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation. Retrieved July 7, 2014, from https://qspace.library.queensu.ca/bitstream/1974/5780/1/POKVol4_EN.pdf.

Dehaas, Josh. (2011, June 17). Are today’s students too confident? Sixty per cent think they’re above average. Macleans. Retrieved July 7, 2014, from http://www.macleans.ca/education/uniandcollege/are-todays-students-too-confident/.

Durkheim, Émile. (1956). Education and sociology. New York: Free Press. (original work published 1898)

Education Week. (2004, August 4). Tracking. Education Week. Retrieved February 24, 2012 from http://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/tracking/.

Iverson, Jeremy. (2006). High school confidential. New York: Atria.

Mansfield, Harvey C. (2001). Grade inflation: It’s time to face the facts. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 47(30): B24.

Merton, Robert K. (1968). Social theory and social structure. New York: Free Press.

National Public Radio. (2004, April 28). Princeton takes steps to fight ‘grade inflation.’ Day to Day, April 28.

OECD. (2012). Education at a glance: OECD indicators [PDF] 2012. OECD Publishing. Retrieved July 7, 2014, from http://www.oecd.org/edu/EAG%202012_e-book_EN_200912.pdf.

Statistics Canada. (2013). Summary elementary and secondary school indicators for Canada, the provinces and territories, 2006/2007 to 2010/2011. [PDF] Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 81‑595‑M — No. 099. Retrieved July 7, 2014, from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/81-595-m/81-595-m2013099-eng.pdf.

Turcotte, Martin. (2011, December). Women in Canada: A gender-based statistical report. [PDF] Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 89-503-X. Retrieved July 7, 2014, from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-503-x/2010001/article/11542-eng.pdf.

UNESCO. (2005). Towards knowledge societies: UNESCO world report. Paris: UNESCO Publishing.

World Bank. (2007). World development report. Washington, DC: World Bank.

11.9 Attributions

The text of this chapter is a remix including the following sources:

Figure 16.1 Living seasons in a Hopi village by U.S. Embassy Canada (https://www.flickr.com/photos/us_mission_canada/8197704623/in/set-72157632038837142) used under CC BY 2.0 license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)


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Module 11: Education Copyright © by Susan Robertson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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