Foundations of Education


Chronicles the intersection of social change and Canadian educational reform throughout the 20th century.

Social Change and 20th Century Education 2

In the passage below, the international Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), one of the many inter-governmental organizations created after World War II, provides a brief summary of educational developments in post-World War II Canada (1945 onwards). The bolding has been added:

"The thumbnail history of Canadian educational reform in the post-war period shares much in common with the United States and the rest of the industrialized world. Strong economic growth in the 1950s and 1960s, combined with increasing demand for schooling, led to rapidly increasing spending on schooling between 1950 and 1970, with much of the energy focused on school construction and teacher hiring. Because of the increased demand for teachers, teacher wages rose considerably over this period. Schools and teachers were given more autonomy over what to teach, and the inspection functions of provincial ministries were delimited or eliminated.

At the same time, provinces were taking increasing financial responsibility for schooling. In 1950, localities paid 64% of the costs, compared to 36% from the provinces; and by 1970, the ratio had largely reversed, with provinces paying 60% and localities 40%. By 1997, eight out of the ten provinces had taken total responsibility for funding…

…The post-war boom of the 1950s and 1960s gave way to hard economic times in the 1970s, and the final three decades of the 20th century saw Canadian education seeking a way to cut costs while increasing educational outcomes.

Globalization and the arrival of the knowledge economy increased the importance of schooling as a matter of economic competitiveness. A neoliberal emphasis on efficiency pervaded the system, and support for greater choice, growing support for private schools, and increased state accountability became the order of the day."
CREDIT: The text above is excerpted from: OECD. (2011). Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education: Lessons from PISA for the United States. OECD Publishing. URL:

The bolded phrases above warrant additional commentary. They are grouped below into three time periods: 1945 - 1970, 1970 - 1985, and 1985 - 2000:

"strong economic growth in the 1950s and 1960s" (1945 - 1970): The optimism of the post-World War II era translates into a booming economy and the onset of the Baby Boom Generation, during which the birth rate rises sharply.

"increasing demand for schooling" (1945 - 1970): A rising birthrate leads to a dramatic increase in the school aged population.

"rapidly increasing spending on schooling" (1945 - 1970): The dramatic increase in the school aged population leads to increased investment in public education, financially backed by a booming economy and increased consumer spending.

"school construction and teacher hiring" (1945 - 1970): Much of the increased investment in public education is directed to teacher hiring and the building of new schools (to house the dramatic increase in the school aged population).

"hard economic times in the 1970s" (1970 - 1985): Because economic patterns tend to be cyclical and corrective, the booming economy of the 1950s and 1960s gives way to a major recession in the 1970s.

"cut costs while increasing educational outcomes" (1970 - 1985): The economic recession necessarily leads to dramatically reduced school investments, including teacher lay offs, reduced school construction, and the consolidation of courses, all in an effort to introduce educational efficiencies that will result in significant budgetary savings.
Photo of school portables.
During periods of educational austerity, it is far cheaper to put up portables to house the overflow of students, rather than build new schools. Beginning in the 1970s, as the worldwide economy experienced a serious down turn, portables dotted the grounds of many schools in Ontario. (Photo Credit: David Hutchison)
"globalization" (1985 - 2000): The internationalization of provincial and national economies leads to new emerging markets throughout the world and increased transcontinental trade between countries.

"economic competitiveness" (1985 - 2000): The economic health of countries is increasingly judged in relation to one another. Japan, in particular, emerges as a chief economic competitor to Canada and the United States. The educational and training roles of schools are viewed as primary economic drivers in ensuring Ontario's economic competitiveness with other jurisdictions.

"much in common with the United States"
: Geographically connected and among one another's biggest trading partners, the United States and Canada have grown economically in tandem with one another throughout the 20th century, with the much larger United States exerting a significant economic and cultural influence on Canada, even as Canada has endeavoured to maintain its own unique political, economic, cultural, and educational identity.
📌 Perhaps the most striking example of the influence of U.S. educational policy on Ontario's educational policy is the landmark 1984 U.S.-based A Nation at Risk report which is discussed on the next topic page.