BY the provisions of the British North America Act the conduct of Education was left under the control of the provinces. That being so, there is necessarily a slight difference in the various systems followed, but taking it broadly the system pervading Canada is based on the principle of free education, out of funds supplied by government grants and local taxation.
Some provinces make education compulsory. In Ontario, for example, children are obliged to attend school between the ages of eight and fourteen; in Nova Scotia children between the ages of seven and twelve are obliged to attend, but only for 120 days in the year. British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Quebec have no compulsory law. A good example of uniformity of system is that of the province of Ontario. In this province all public schools and high schools are in the hands of professional teachers, examined, trained and selected by the provincial government ; there is a common matriculation examination for admission to all the universities of the province, and the educational ladder is graded in a most excellent fashion.
Beginning at the lowest class there is the kindergarten school, above which there are the public and separate schools, the latter being for the Roman Catholic or the Protestant minority as the case may be. The next stage in the educational ladder is the high school ; and lastly, the Provincial University. Each of these is independent, but all are under one central control, presided over by a Minister of Education, the object in view being to provide, for children from the age of four to young people of twenty two, a complete and well grounded scheme of education. The kindergarten school takes children of four or five years of age, the public school receives them at six, the high school at fourteen or fifteen, and the University at eighteen.
In a country like Canada where class distinctions do not prevail to any appreciable extent the poor but clever boy has precisely the same opportunity of improvement as the rich clever boy, and the rich brainless boy finds his own level with the other dullards of the school.
The schools of Ontario are governed by Boards of Trustees, High School Boards, Public School Boards and Separate School Boards. High School Boards are appointed by the local Municipal Council ; the Public Schools and the Separate School Boards are elected by the ratepayers, the Public School supporters voting for the former and the Separate School supporters for the latter. Separate schools exist only in Quebec, Ontario and the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta. In Quebec naturally the Public School is for the Roman Catholic majority, and in the other two provinces for the Protestant majority with a separate school for the Roman Catholic minority in the latter, and for the Protestants in the former case. Until a few years ago Manitoba also had a series of separate schools for Roman Catholics, but after a long internecine fight they were abolished, and the children are now taught side by side in the public schools and religious instruction is given after the regular school hours by their own priests.
As far as expenditure goes, education receives a generous consideration from the provincial governments. The governments of the various provinces pay grants to public schools ranging from 9% to 39% of their total revenues. These figures, though perfectly accurate are slightly misleading, since the 39% which a few years ago was true of Prince Edward Island does not indicate any more generous support of schools than the 9% of another province, but only that the schools in the Island province are supported chiefly from the provincial treasury rather than by local taxation. The amount of money spent is not the only evidence of the relative importance of education. In round figures it may be said that a million and a quarter children in Canada attend school every day, and that over 30,000 teachers are employed.
Of recent years the governments have been realising more and more fully the value of education. The great difficulty in Canada, (as in England, it must be confessed) with regard to expenditure on education, is not the want of money, but the want of appreciation on the part of the people as to the value of education. Taxation at all times is vexatious, and when the results are not immediately apparent it is the ratepayer’s privilege to grumble, and he does so with energy.
Another of the specific hindrances to the advantages of education come from the difficulty of obtaining the right sort of candidates as teachers. It is the same story as one finds in England when the teacher is under-paid and under appreciated, and ambitious young men and young women, unless they enter the profession from pure disinterestedness, are repelled by the lack of prospect in the profession. In Quebec, for example, the salaries of men teachers are in some cases as low as 112 dollars a year, and of women in some cases less than 100 dollars.
Before leaving the question of underpayment of teachers a word must be said as to the recent movement for the adoption of district schools. In the sparsely populated districts of the United States an admirable plan has been adopted of combining a number of weak local schools into one good district school in a central locality. It is thus possible to provide a fuller education for the children, to engage well-qualified teachers, and to increase in many other ways the value of the education given. The first Canadian school of this kind, embodying principles of consolidation was opened in Middleton, Nova Scotia, in 1903.