Education after the 1968 Commission

The findings of the Royal Commission on Education and Youth did much to shape and speed educational change in Newfoundland and in Labrador during the 1970s and 1980s. In keeping with the Commission's 1967-68 Report, a great deal of effort focused on consolidating existing school facilities and services, and on restructuring the education system to meet national standards of individual student achievement.

As a result, the number of schools declined, but they were better equipped and funded than they had been in the past. Teacher training also improved and school transportation became more streamlined. The government introduced French immersion in 1975 and a twelfth grade in 1981. It greatly expanded the number of courses available to high-school students in the 1980s and created a system of distance education to accommodate rural students. Drop-out rates steadily decreased, but so did school enrolment, due in large part to the province's shrinking and aging population.

Changes also occurred to post-secondary education. Memorial University opened the West Coast Regional College at Corner Brook in 1975 to offer first- and second-year courses in arts, science and education. The facility changed its name to Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in 1979 and to Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland in 2010. By 2011, it offered 16 degree programs in fine arts, arts, nursing, resource management, and science.

By 1986, the Cabot Institute of Applied Arts and Technology (formerly the College of Trades and Technology and today the College of the North Atlantic) had expanded to include five three-year programs, 13 two-year diploma programs, and 30 programs that lasted at least one year, making it the largest post-secondary institution that was not a university in eastern Canada. Additional community colleges opened in the next two years to serve the Labrador, Avalon, Central, and Western districts.

1970s School Consolidation

Consolidation of schools and school services was the major change taking place in the province's education system during the 1970s. Larger schools opened to accept students from smaller buildings, some bussing services became combined, and joint schools opened in several communities for students from different denominations. Government and education officials introduced these changes to help solve one of the most widespread and costly problems affecting the school system – unnecessary duplication of services and infrastructure. This meant the province had many more schools and school services than were necessary.

Officials took steps to reduce duplication soon after the Royal Commission on Education and Youth published its two-part report in 1967 and 1968. The Anglican, Salvation Army, Presbyterian, and United Church school systems amalgamated during the 1968-69 school year to form an Integrated Protestant system. This reduced the number of distinct denominational systems to three: Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, and Integrated Protestant.

Joint schools also opened during the early 1970s to accept students from Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations. The first of these opened in 1971, when the Humber-St. Barbe Roman Catholic and the Strait of Belle Isle Integrated school boards established a joint high school at Plum Point on the Northern Peninsula. The school accepted all students from the surrounding area. Joint schools opened later in at other communities, including Bay de Verde, Fogo Island, Pasadena, Glenwood, Springdale, and Cow Head.

Cooperation between school boards occurred in other ways as well. The joint purchase of paper and other supplies became increasingly common during the 1970s, as did the sharing of snow-clearing and fuel contracts, and the combination of bussing systems. Some boards also shared specialist personnel, such as speech pathologists, educational psychologists, and teachers for the visually or hearing impaired; measures such as these were particularly helpful in rural or remote areas that could not easily recruit and retain specialist teachers.

Other Changes

Other developments affected the curriculum. In the 1980s, the province reorganized its high school program by adding a twelfth grade and expanding course offerings. By 1992, high school students could choose from 120 courses in a wide range of subject areas, including: literature, language, science, math, history, geography, economics, religious education, French, health, physical education, music, the fine arts, business, and vocational education.

The province introduced a program of distance education in 1988 to make a wider range of classes available to high-school students living in rural areas, where education facilities and funds were limited. Distance education made it easier for rural students to take courses required for admission into universities, technical schools, and other post-secondary institutions. After two decades of steady expansion, the program admitted 1,616 students during the 2008-09 school year and offered more than 40 courses in such areas as math, music, art, biology, environmental science, communications technology, and English.

The delivery of French language programs also improved dramatically. French-First Language classes became available in the province in 1960 to educate francophone children living in Labrador City whose parents had migrated from Quebec and New Brunswick to work in the iron-ore mines. The program spread to other regions of the province and during the 2008-09 school year 269 students were enrolled in five schools.

The first French immersion program for Newfoundland students opened in 1975 at Our Lady of the Cape Primary School at Cape St. George on the Port-au-Port Peninsula. The program expanded in the decades following and by the 2008-09 school year accommodated 8,008 students in 65 schools across the province.

Despite these measures, problems persisted within the education system. Foremost among these was poor student achievement compared to national standards. During the 1970s and 1980s, Newfoundland and Labrador students consistently scored below average in all subject areas examined under the Canadian Test of Basic Skills in Grades 4, 6, 8, and 12. A second problem was the unnecessary duplication of services, which persisted even after efforts at consolidation. Public discontent with the school system mounted in the 1980s and sparked calls for reform that ultimately led to the dismantling of the denominational education system in the late 1990s.

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