Year after year, Canada has been recognized as a world leader in education, with students performing better than their contemporaries in the U.S or the U.K in subjects like math, science, and reading.
When it comes to schooling, one of the main differences between Canada and these countries is that we don’t have a federal department in charge of education.
Our country is geographically huge compared to others, and its education systems need to reflect that. These systems also need to accommodate the economic diversity of 10 different provinces and three territories, many of which are larger than some European countries. One department being responsible for the education of millions of people who live in vastly different places would likely be a bureaucratic nightmare.
There are stark differences between the economies of provinces like B.C., Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland, and their unique educational requirements need to equip younger Canadians with the knowledge and ability to thrive in whichever industry they choose.
In a country where the natural resource sector dominates the national economy, post-secondary trades schools need to specialize in training for jobs in forestry, agriculture, mining, and energy. Each province’s government can and should decide which areas of education to invest in, as well as how to get institutions and stakeholders involved with offerings like co-ops or subsidized tuition.
For example, the creation of the Forestry Program and Forest Sciences Centre at UBC was funded by both the provincial and federal governments. This isn’t the kind of initiative you would expect to see in Saskatchewan, Nunavut, or PEI, for example.
Saskatchewan has a province-wide elementary school program called Agriculture in the Classroom, which teaches children about agriculture through hands-on experiences like raising animals and growing food. At higher levels, the program teaches students about biotechnology and prepares them for careers in agribusiness. It is funded by the government of Saskatchewan, and its board has members from the Ministries of Education and Agriculture, as well as representatives from several Saskatchewan-based agriculture organizations and associations.
Nunavut’s Department of Education places special focus on mining and fishing for trades preparation, and on arts and tourism. Nunavut also has a mandate to promote bilingualism in its education curricula and gives precedence to teachers who are fluent in Inuktut. Unique legislation there allows the province to reimburse parents who homeschool children, which helps remote communities and eases the financial burden of parents who live in areas where accessing education can be difficult.
It’s a purpose-built educational policy designed to accommodate the size of the province, which spans over two million square kilometers, making Nunavut the largest territory in Canada.
Compare that to Canada’s smallest province, Prince Edward Island, which covers about 5,660 kilometers, and you can see how dividing educational responsibilities can be a good thing.
The educational arm of PEI’s provincial government is called the Department of Education, Early Learning and Culture. It condenses education, culture, and elements of early childcare into one overarching department. For a province of about 150,000 people, it makes sense to combine department portfolios to serve the public more efficiently. The Department of Education also works with the other social policy departments on a Poverty Reduction Strategy and Mental Health and Addictions Strategy.
In B.C., where the population is around 4.8 million people, the Ministries of Education, Children and Family Development and Tourism, Arts and Culture are all detached, and their responsibilities are separated. There’s even a dedicated Ministry of Social Development & Poverty Reduction.
The sheer expanse of this country is too overwhelming for a single organization to take charge of the schooling of its citizens. The enormity of Canada and its diversity of culture, socioeconomics, and general ways of living justified the formation of separate provinces in the first place, and the way we organize our education needs to fit into that model.