One Dominion: Our Public Education System
Our blog series starts with the beginning of our Public Education System. The following is an excerpt from the new book “One Dominion“.
Dr. Egerton Ryerson, founder of the Christian Guardian newspaper and the Methodist Book of Concern, which would become Ryerson Press, became the Chief Superintendent of Education for Upper Canada in 1844. Before that he had served as a Methodist minister for nearly 20 years.
When Ryerson was a circuit rider he stated that his main aim was to “preach Jesus to the lost sons of men.” But at the time, quality education was available only to the wealthy. In poorer neighbourhoods and in rural areas, many teachers were unqualified and the course content was inadequate. Many children couldn’t attend schools, so illiteracy was not uncommon. Troubled by this, Ryerson wanted to make a change. After studying the education systems in Europe and the United States, he drafted what would become the blueprint of Canada’s school system.
In 1846, Ryerson wrote the Act for the Establishment and Maintenance of Common Schools in Upper Canada which later became the Education Act of Ontario. Many transformation principles were outlined and implemented, which impacted generations: universally accessible elementary education for children, standardized curriculum and textbooks, education rooted in Biblical and godly principles, standardized training and certification of teachers, creation of a Normal School for the
training of teachers and systematic inspection of schools to ensure that consistent high standards were met.
For a little over a century, the importance of the Bible and the Christian faith remained the foundation for public school education in Canada. The introduction to the Programme for Religious Education in the Public Schools 1944, issued by authority of The Minister of Education for Ontario, says “the schools of Ontario exist for the purpose of preparing children to live in a democratic society which bases its way of life upon the Christian ideal.” It also says “the school must seek to lead the child to choose and accept as his own those ideals of conduct and endeavour which a Christian and democratic society approves.”
Further, in 1944, a detailed course in religious education was introduced to the curriculum. As the course was based on the study of Scripture, teachers were instructed to have as much knowledge and understanding of the Bible as they did in their other subjects, in order for the course to be a success: “If Bible teaching is to lead to a genuine understanding of its profound purport, the text must be studied seriously and intelligently.”
The Ministry of Education in Ontario at that time also understood the role that Canada had been divinely given to take the Gospel beyond the borders of Canada. The religious education curriculum included a variety of prayers that were used daily in the schools, including prayers for Canadian missionaries taking the Gospel “to the ends for the earth.”
These changes all began when one life, transformed by God and His Word, was used by God to change a nation. This transformation of the nation was not limited to elementary schooling; it also included colleges and universities.