Chapter Two: The Structure of Canadian Schooling

2.10 Federal Involvement in Education

The role of the federal government in Canadian education is an unusual one. Canada is the only industrialized country that has no federal office or department of education. Even in other federal states, such as Germany, there is a significant role in education for the national government. In Canada, federal activity in education, while it exists, is limited. Thus, there are different arrangements in each province for curricula, teacher certification, and even grades within the school system.

While the provisions of Section 93 of the Constitution Act give primacy to provincial authority over education and to the structures outlined in the preceding pages, the Act does not preclude federal government involvement. As education grew in importance in Canada, the federal government has made various efforts to play a more important role, and today it continues to have a presence in education despite the constitutional provisions of Section 93 ( Some educational programs are run directly by the federal government, while others are collaborative ventures run jointly with the provinces or other educational authorities. (The federal role in the funding of education through transfer payments to the provinces is dealt with separately in Chapter 5.)

A major area of federal activity arises out of attempts to address the educational requirements of those areas of federal jurisdiction spelled out in Section 91 of the Constitution Act (e.g., national defence, Indian affairs, the territories, prisons, external affairs, and the economy). Thus, the federal Department of National Defence is responsible not only for the education of service personnel, but also for the education of children of members of the armed forces, either through the operation of schools on military bases or through agreements with nearby school boards. In the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut, territorial departments of education perform functions generally similar to those of the provinces, they are funded primarily by the federal government.

International Education

The federal government, through the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship  Canada (IRCC), has in recent years worked in collaboration with the provinces and the Council of Ministers of Education (CMEC) to develop a national strategy for promoting international education (Advisory Panel on Canada’s International Education Strategy, 2012; Canada, 2019), that connects federal trade, and immigration interests with provincial education mandates (Elnagar, 2019; Elnagar & Young, 2021).  Encompassing both K-12 and post-secondary education, this strategy covers the recruitment of, and programs for, foreign students studying in Canada, Canadian students studying abroad, collaboration between Canadian education institutions and those in other countries, and the exporting of Canadian education models to other countries (Canada, 2019).

Box 2.10.1

Canada’s International Education Strategy (2019-2024) Vision Statement

Over the next five years, the new International Education Strategy aims to diversify the education sector, boost Canada’s innovation capacity, promote global ties and foster a vibrant Canadian economy. The strategy will also help to ensure that Canada’s labour force has the needed skills and talent to ensure Canada can compete successfully in global markets, creating middle-class jobs and fostering prosperity in communities across the country. The strategy is designed to support and complement efforts by provinces, territories and stakeholders toward a collective goal of a sustainable and successful international education sector.

The strategy aims to draw students from around the world to communities across Canada where they can enrol in a wide variety of schools and programs at all educational levels (Figure 1). At the same time, it will help a growing number of Canadian students return from studies and work abroad with the global competencies, skills and networks needed to drive Canada’s success as an innovative trading nation. Lastly, it will assist more Canadian schools and businesses design and export cutting-edge educational services and products to an increasing number and diversity of international markets.

The Trade Commissioner Service of Global Affairs Canada will lead the new strategy, with other major components managed by Employment and Social Development Canada and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Source. Government of Canada (2019). Building on success: International education strategy (2019-2024).

Of considerable significance in this regard is Canada’s membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) established in January 2000 and the ongoing global negotiations taking place through the WTO to liberalize trade in services under the General Agreement on Trades in Services (GATS) (Canada, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade [DFAIT], 2003). In its participation in these negotiations designed to promote international trade and competition and the opening up of international markets to foreign service providers, Canada’s position has been that, while it is seeking increased access to international markets for the export of Canadian educational services, foreign access to Canada’s public education is non-negotiable (DFAIT, 2003). To do this, Canadian government representatives have drawn a distinction between “commercial education” and “public education” and remained committed to keeping public education out of the GATS negotiations. While advocates of the GATS negotiations argue for the substantial economic benefits that could be gained from exporting Canadian educational expertise, others see the process as presenting very dangerous threats to the integrity of public education in Canada. In this regard Grieshaber-Otto and Sanger (2002) suggest that the aims of GATS conflict with the basic principles underlying public education:

The impetus of the GATS is to expand commercial opportunities to foreign service providers and investors—in short, to commercialize services. Canada’s public education system exists to ensure free, high quality education for all regardless of citizens’ financial circumstances or their ability to pay. (p. v)

Table 2.10.1

International Students in Canada by Study Level (2008-2016)

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Total 182,470 202,185 222,790 244,850 274,050 301,530 326,290 351,055 413,820
Post-Secondary 115,150 131,500 148,790 169,065 189,905 215,915 238,775 261,860 312,100
Secondary or Less 35,200 35,070 35,720 35,815 41,490 45,575 51,115 55,955 62,710
Others 32,120 35,615 38,280 39,970 42,655 40,040 36,400 33,240 39,010

Source. Canadian International Students by Level, 2016. The Canadian Magazine of Immigration. May 15, 2017.


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